Aldermen receive pointers on historic preservation efforts

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Brookhaven officials have a better understanding on how toproceed with a historic preservation ordinance for the cityfollowing a meeting Friday with a Mississippi Department ofArchives and History representative.

MDAH representative Todd Sanders’ visit Friday was intended toaddress several aldermen concerns about a sample preservationordinance given to the board by the state and to answer severalquestions about how the historic district designation processworks. Sanders said the sample ordinance is in line with state lawsand guidelines for becoming a Certified Local Government.

Under the ordinance, the designation process involves creationof a historic preservation commission, composed of people familiarwith architecture and other aspects of preservation. The commissionthen would make a recommendation for designation of a historicdistrict.

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The next step would be a public hearing on the proposed area.Sanders stressed the importance of the hearing in keeping thepublic informed and in avoiding the potential of someone feeling”railroaded” by the plan.

‘”It’s about preserving and protecting historic resources andmaking your community unique,” Sanders said.

Sanders frowned on a suggested ordinance revision that wouldallow individual property owners to “opt out” of a historicdistrict.

“We don’t think it’s a good idea,” he said.

Sanders said the board could pass the “opt out” provision, butArchives and History would not grant Certified Local Governmentstatus. That status is needed in order to apply for somegrants.

“That would keep it from happening,” Sanders said.

In preservation commission-related matters, Sanders said thesize of the panel and how its recommendations are handled would befor aldermen to decide. He said the commission could be givenauthority to act or it could be set up similar to the city’splanning and zoning commissions to make recommendations, with theboard of aldermen having final approval.

One issue that was clarified during Friday’s meeting was citydesires to designate four buildings – The Haven Theatre, theAlexander Teen Center, the Chamber of Commerce building and theMulti-Modal Facility – as historic areas. Sanders said the citycould do that, but recommendations on historic districts firstshould be made by the preservation commission and not the board ofaldermen.

“I think it’s wonderful to specifically mention buildings,”Sanders said.

Brookhaven Little Theatre’s efforts to seek a grant to helprestore The Haven prompted city officials to look into becoming aCertified Local Government. Mayor Bob Massengill expressedcontinued city support for The Haven project.

“That building is important to our community and it needs somerenovations,” the mayor said.

Sanders said this year’s grant application deadline has passed.If the Legislature approves the grant program, the next deadlinewould be around next October.

Sanders said six months would be a good timetable for goingthrough the process of forming a preservation commission,designating a district and seeking Certified Local Governmentstatus. Aldermen planned to discuss city plans in more detail atTuesday’s meeting.

“It’s too late for this year, but we’ve got plenty of time towork properly toward next year,” said Ward Five Alderman D.W.Maxwell.