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Opposition spurs delay on historic district vote

Elizabethton’s Historic Zoning Commission delayed a decision on the proposed historic district expansion until its July meeting after being met with opposition during Monday’s public hearing.
A small number of downtown property owners attended the public hearing to express their displeasure with or to get more information on the expansion plan.
After hearing from the property owners, commission member David Pinckard moved that the group wait until the July meeting to vote on the expansion to give the city time to contact more downtown property owners. Pinckard’s motion was unanimously approved.
“Only 15 of the 71 property owners responded that they wanted this,” Pinckard said. “We need responses from all of the owners before we go ahead with this.”
Pinckard was referring to a telephone survey completed by the city planning department. City staff members asked to speak to the property owner and questioned if they were in favor, indifferent or against the historic expansion.
City Planning Director Jon Hartman said after the telephone survey, he also went door-to-door downtown to make additional contacts. The goal was to contact 60 of the 71 property owners, but they were only able to contact 38. Of the 38, 15 were in favor, 12 were indifferent and 11 were against it.
Pinckard said he believed the city would have better luck making contact if letters were sent to property owners requesting a response, and a postage-paid envelope was included so they could mail it back.
During the meeting, two downtown property owners spoke against the expansion. Marina Robinson, owner of Barnes Boring Hardware and Magic Moments, said downtown businesses already faced enough hurdles in their day-to-day operations without having additional restrictions placed on their properties. While her properties are already in the current historic district, she said other family properties were located in the proposed expansion.
“Not all of the businesses in downtown are thriving,” Robinson said. “People who have businesses in downtown are not millionaires. We do not appreciate having someone tell us how to maintain our properties. We do feel we should put our best foot forward but we don’t think you should tell us what to do. We own these buildings.”
She said the historic district would not make any upgrades that would improve downtown business. She added changes that would improve downtown, such as additional parking, canopy improvements and change in traffic flow, would not be governed by the historic district expansion.
Linda Woods, owner of the former Hallwoods Jewelers, said she did not want her property to be in the expansion. She said when the building was bought it was not in the district and if it would have been, she likely wouldn’t have bought it. That business is now closed and the property is for sale.
Another downtown property owner, Chris Cannon with Cannon’s Furniture, asked what benefit the district would bring if the requirements were not enforced.
“What will you do to people who do not go by what the district says?” Cannon asked. “If you are not going to do anything, then what good is it? If it will not be enforced, then it is just a new law or a rule for people who already follow the rules.”
He said there were already properties in downtown that had deteriorating buildings and needed improvements, but nothing was being done to have those owners make the needed changes. He suggested the city issue code enforcement citations to show property owners that there will be consequences if the standards are not maintained.
Joe Alexander, owner of Alexander Insurance in downtown Elizabethton, said he felt better communication would help with some of the hesitation that property owners felt when it comes to being in the historic district.
“I think the big thing that scares people is the unknown,” Alexander said. “They don’t know what will be required or what the commission will want from them.”
Pinckard said he understood the challenges downtown property owners faced. He operated a downtown business for more than 40 years.
“I am the only one (on the commission) who has been in business in downtown,” Pinckard said. “I know what it takes to work and to do business every day. I don’t want to do anything that is against what the downtown business owners want.”
Hartman said he would continue to try to contact more downtown property owners so that there would be a wider response range before the July commission meeting.