Anniston City Council gets good feedback on historic districts
by Patrick McCreless
Dec 03, 2013 | 2543 views |  0 comments | 73 73 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Two historic districts in downtown Anniston could be established in January if details in an ordinance are hammered out the way City Council members expect.

At the end of a special council work session Monday to discuss the proposed districts, Mayor Vaughn Stewart and the council said they supported the projects and would likely vote on the plans within the next two council meetings. The districts would improve protection of property values and of the overall characteristics of downtown, officials say.

The mayor and council acknowledged their support of the districts after speaking with several downtown business owners at the meeting.

"I think we'll vote at the next meeting or the next meeting after that," Stewart said. "I think the consensus is to move forward with a few little tweaks."

The tweaks in the ordinance for the districts include adding a fine for noncompliance, rather than making it a criminal misdemeanor, and ensuring building design criteria is less subjective.

The Anniston Historic Preservation Commission on Oct. 17 approved the resolution to create two districts. One of the districts would include property along Noble Street between 9th and 14th Streets. The other district would be along 15th Street between Cooper Avenue and Walnut Avenue. The districts need final approval from the council to become official.

The council discussed the districts last month, but due to confusion and miscommunication between the city and local business owners, members scheduled the Monday work session to clear up the issue.

The commission's historic preservation consultant, David Schneider, told business owners at the meeting that the districts would help improve their properties. He said a historic district will protect property values by preventing people from immediately tearing down nearby buildings or making drastic changes to buildings that go against the aesthetic look of that district.

"Historic districts tend to stabilize property values," Schneider said. "The advantage is this protects one's investment in property."

Megan Brightwell, who owns Parker House Bed and Breakfast in the Tyler Hill area of East 6th Street, agreed that historic districts protect property owners, particularly those without much money.

"It protects people who can only afford one property from big developers," Brightwell said.

Troy Shaneyfelt, owner of Western Auto in downtown Anniston, was concerned the districts would force him pay for changes to his building that he didn't want or couldn't afford. Schneider said, however, that businesses will not be forced to do anything they do not want to do to their property. The commission will just need to make sure that any changes a business owner does make to the outside of their buildings fits with the overall look of their district, he said.

"But it's not that we'll have design police out there," Schneider said. "If you come up with an appropriate design, even if it's modern, it will be approved."

Councilman Jay Jenkins said he strongly supported creating historic districts, noting Gadsden has had much success with its historic downtown district in recent years.

"It's important as a community that we prevent further erosion of our downtown area," Jenkins said to the business owners in attendance. "You guys have investment in downtown and West 15th Street that you don't want to see go south ... it's not rocket science."

Shaneyfelt said the meeting helped clear up his concerns about the historic districts.

"I do feel a lot better about this, I feel good now," Shaneyfelt said.

General Jackson, owner of Jackson's Unisex Barber Shop on West 15th Street, said he also felt better about the districts after the meeting and plans to tell other 15th Street business owners about what he'd learned.

"Bringing the area up, everybody wants to do that," Jackson said. "There just wasn't enough information about this before."

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.

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