Hearing set to discuss creation of downtown historic districts
by Eddie Burkhalter
Sep 26, 2013 | 3322 views |  0 comments | 76 76 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The old Gold Bond building on West 15th Street is one of several buildings that are part of a proposed historic district. Photo by Bill Wilson.
The old Gold Bond building on West 15th Street is one of several buildings that are part of a proposed historic district. Photo by Bill Wilson.
Downtown Anniston is dotted with buildings pockmarked with age, some with businesses that use the old structures’ character to their advantage. Others, though, remain empty or repaired without concern for historical preservation.

The Anniston Historic Preservation Commission will hold a public hearing Oct. 3 to discuss creating two historic districts in downtown Anniston that could protect such structures. One would include property along Noble Street, between Ninth and 14th streets, and the other be down West 15th Street between Cooper Avenue and Walnut Avenue.

The purpose of the districts, explained John Valieant, chairman of the Preservation Commission, is to preserve some of the city’s most historic property and lure business and investors to downtown.

“The upside is money,” Valieant said, adding that most successful downtown revitalization efforts make historic preservation a key component.

If after the hearing the commission votes to create the districts, the matter would go before the City Council for final approval.

If created, those who own property within the districts would have to check with the commission before making changes to the outsides of their property. Valieant said changes to the interior of buildings would not require commission approval.

“If somebody doesn’t want to do anything to their building, we’re not going to force them to change their building,” Valieant said, explaining that there would be no mandate to repair or remodel properties.

But some residents have in the past resisted creation of historic districts over worries about a commision that has say-so over how they work on their property.

Valieant recalled that during the mid-1980s people living in Glenwood Terrace opted to have their community’s historic district classification removed for that reason.

It’s hard to predict how things will go this time, Valieant said, but he’s been in a couple of meetings where property owners seemed interested in seeing these historic districts come to pass.

“I guess we aren’t going to find out until the third,” Valieant said.

Commission members could vote the night of the public hearing, but they’ll have 30 days in which to make a decision, Valieant said.

If property owners come out strongly against the idea, Valieant said, the commission may decide to take more time before voting.

“We’re hoping it’s going to go, because we think it’s important for the city,” Valieant said.

David Schneider, of Schneider Historic Preservation in Anniston, will give property owners a presentation at the hearing on what historic districts are and some of the benefits that can come with them.

“The sad reality is that a lot of communities are somewhat resistant to change, and this does represent a change,” Schneider said. “There’s always a misconception with this that there’s going to be some onerous bureaucratic process that’s going to cause people to do a lot of things. The reality is it’s a pretty benign process. “

Dianna Michaels, director of the Spirit of Anniston — a downtown revitalization group that supports the creation of the districts – made a case for preserving the city’s aging downtown.

“Whenever you save a historic building in a downtown corridor, such as in the downtown Anniston area, it is critical to the future success of not only that downtown, but the city in which it resides,” Michaels said.

Lewis Downing, manager of Downing’s General Store on Gurnee Avenue, said the building his family has owned and operated since 1963 has had some changes and repairs over the years.

But Downing sees no problem with having to run future exterior repairs by the Historical Commission if the old building needs a little work.

“My original thought was that it’s great. It’s long overdue,” Downing said. “A lot of other cities have local historic designations and have been vastly successful with them.”

Downing said historic districts protect property owners’ investments and can attract new investors to an area.

“People don’t want to come in to develop a property and spend six figures when a property owner next to them tears their lot down and puts up a double-wide trailer with a beauty salon in it,” Downing said.

“We’re looking forward to it,” Downing said. “But there will be some people who won’t.”

The public hearing will take place at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the courtroom of the Justin Sollohub Justice Center at 174 West 13th St.

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.

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