Commission denies move to expand historic zoning district
Published 9:34 am Friday, December 5, 2014
The Elizabethton Historic District will not be expanding its borders in the near future.
A bid to expand the district to include all of downtown was defeated after the Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission voted 4-2 to deny the request. The proposed expansion would have included E Elk Avenue and E E Street from Sycamore Street to Lynn Avenue.
Commissioner Vicky Manuel made the motion to deny the request, which was seconded by Bill Carter, stating she had questions that had not been answered about the benefits that would come to property owners by being included in the historic zone.
Manuel questioned Historic Zoning Commission chair Sarah Baker about what benefits would be available to property owners, such as tax incentives and low-interest rate loans to make improvements to properties in the zone.
Baker said some tax incentives were available now through the state but other options could be available in the future.
Commissioner Dena Bass expressed her concerns about the additional costs of renovations and repairs due to the requirements that historically accurate materials be used. She also questioned the appeals process if a property owner did not agree with the historic zoning commissions decision.
Planning Director Jon Hartman said the only appeal option would be for the property owner to file a lawsuit contesting the decision in court. He explained that process was set by state statutes.
Commissioner Ron Kirby said he wanted to see the downtown protected, but was hesitant to pass an expansion that did not have a better appeal process in place.
Baker urged the planning commission to approve the expansion to protect the historic properties in downtown.
“Our main goal is to protect the architectural features and the history of the downtown,” Baker said. “There have been changes in the past. One that I hear about all the time is the Lynnwood Hotel and how we should not have torn that down. This will help protect our history and our heritage in downtown.”
Baker said one of the goals of the expansion was to increase tourism to the city, which would in turn increase sales tax revenues and help take some of the financial strain off of property owners.
“A downtown that has what we have is a huge commodity,” she said.
Manuel said she had talked to many downtown property owners who were not in favor of the expansion. She added she had not seen any concrete examples of incentives that were available to those property owners if they were a part of the district.
Planning Commission chair Paul Bellamy said he received more than 40 phone calls from people who did not want the district expanded because of the higher costs of repairs and renovations that would come with being in the historic zone.
Baker said it wasn’t a guarantee that all projects would be more expensive, and the historic zoning commission would work with property owners to find the most cost effective choice.
Commissioner Jeff Treadway believed the root of the hesitation for approval was two conflicting concerns; the rights of the property owners and the desire to protect historic downtown.
“These don’t have to be mutually exclusive,” he said. “History is a value that a community has and it would be horrible to lose that.”
Manuel made the motion to deny, citing her concerns about benefits to property owners. Bass, Carter, Manuel and Bellamy voted in favor of the denial. Treadway and Kirby voted against. Melanie Sellers was absent from the meeting.
Hartman said the vote to deny killed the current move to expand the historic zoning district. However, the historic commission can start the process to expand over again if they choose to.