Klug, a former president of the Jacksonville Historical Society, spoke to the City Council during its Monday work session, urging council members to consider the creation of a commission to stop the loss of historic sites all over the city.
“We have really been lax in preserving properties and helping people preserve properties,” he said Tuesday, noting the loss of a number of homes along Pelham Road North. “If Jacksonville puts a long-term planning situation onto historic properties, then we won’t lose so many historic properties as we have in the past.”
But Jacksonville officials are concerned about the impact of creating more bureaucracy in the city.
“If you have a historic commission in your town, have to abide by a lot of rules and regulations,” Mayor Johnny Smith said.
“I think we need to do something,” Smith said. “It’s just a matter of deciding what we can do to save our historic structures but do it in a way that won’t harm the property owners. We want to do it in a way that’s reasonable for them.”
Under section 11-68 of the state code, the city council could pass an ordinance “to provide for the creation, protection, and enhancement of historic properties or historic districts” and create a historic preservation commission to carry out the ordinance.
The state law enumerates 13 specific powers and duties of such commissions, including recommending locations and districts for historic designation; restoring and preserving historic properties acquired by the municipality; promoting the creation of conservation and façade easements for historic properties; and applying for funds to carry out the purposes and responsibilities of the commission from municipal, county, state, federal and private agencies. The law also lays out specific criteria for historic designation and specific restrictions on properties that are so designated.
“I don’t want to be regulated by two different boards,” said Jay Colvin, owner of Crow Drugs. “As long as these boards can come to an agreement as to who’s in charge and who’s not, I’ll follow suit…If I have to jump through two sets of hoops it gets really difficult. I jump through one, and it’s hard enough to get through the city planning commission.”
The mayor said he’d prefer an approach based more on incentives rather than regulations for property owners.
City officials were more open to the creation of a local program under the authority of Amendment 772 of the Alabama Constitution to promote economic and industrial development by local governments. Smith mentioned a “Façade Improvement Program” created by the city of Cullman that provides grants for such purposes for commercial or mixed use buildings.
But local programs of this sort are less likely to qualify for outside grants, whereas a commission, Klug said, would have more ability to get more outside funding for businesses on the town square or other residents who wish to restore a historic property.
“If you’re going to let a piece of property go to hell in a hand basket, and the roof leak and the inside fall in, if you want it to look like what we saw on the corner where CVS is now located, then you’re not going to do anything about it,” he said. “But if you want preservation, you need to have something that has some teeth in it.”
Councilman George Areno requested that city attorney Richard Rhea analyze the city’s options in forming bodies under both statues.
“I can see the positive in this,” said Councilwoman Sandra Sudduth, who was involved in getting the Eastwood School listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage. She said the residents who undertook that mission had to reach out to people outside of the city for help. One of the powers enumerated in state code for such commissions is to investigate, survey and process nominations of properties to the National Register of Historic Places.
“If we had something in the city for those people who want to designate a place, they would have somewhere to come,” she said. But Sudduth did say the body shouldn’t dictate to property owners what to do and how or when to do it.
Jerrod Brown is restoring two historic homes in on Mountain Street Northwest—the Forney House that dates back to the 1840s and a Victorian home from the 1890s next door. He said that a historical commission would be a resource for people like him who are trying to properly restore old properties.
“It’s definitely not been an easy task,” he said. “Doing things in the right way, in ways that are historically correct, takes a lot more work.” Brown said having a historical preservation commission with people who are experts on restorations will help people figure out how to proceed with such matters as finding period-appropriate materials or choosing a period-appropriate color palette when painting.
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.