Historic Zoning Commission considers offering incentives to property owners

Published 9:40 am Wednesday, March 25, 2015

After failing to see a historic zone expansion approved, the Elizabethton Historic Zoning Commission is now looking to the future of the historic district, which may include more incentives for property owners.

The commission recently worked for more than a year to expand the historic district to include all of downtown Elizabethton, but the move was defeated by the Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission after many of the property owners spoke out against the expansion.

With the expansion off the table for the time being, the commission is taking the opportunity to develop a historic preservation plan and to look at what kind of incentives the group can offer property owners within the historic district boundaries.

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“As we progressed through the process of trying to expand the historic district, it kept coming up over and over about the incentives,” Commission Chairwoman Sarah Baker said. “The homeowners asked several times what was in it for them to be in the historic district.”

The district already offered a series of tax-based incentives, but those were limited to property owners in the historic downtown business district, Baker said. 

“We need to work on getting more,” Baker said. “Since the expansion was not approved, this is a need that came out of it. It seemed to be a big need in people’s minds.”

The commission then turned to state historic commissioner Dan Brown, who provided a list of incentives that historic commissions throughout the state offered to property owners.

“Some of these things were free professional consultations from architects, or discounts on utility hookups or building permits,” Baker said. “There were all kinds of things we hadn’t thought of.”

Before the incentive plan can be developed and approved, the commission agreed a new survey of the historic properties in the current historic district and in the entire city needed to be completed.

“The commission came up with the incentive plan and tossed around ideas,” Elizabethton Director of Planning and Development Jon Hartman said. “They decided to wait until there is a preservation plan in place and then we can look at the incentives so we will know where to start.”

The preservation plan would catalog all of the historic properties or areas throughout the city, Hartman said. Once the properties were listed, the commission would look at which ones they would like to include in preservation efforts.

“Once we have a solid plan, we will know how to move forward,” Hartman said. “If we have these incentives in place, and we can tell property owners we can offer these things to them, then more people will want to take part in it.”

The commission is still early in the process and is still considering all options for incentives to property owners, Baker said.

“We are in the thinking phase right now,” she said. “We are thinking it over to see what we can do. We want to help the homeowners as well as those in downtown. Of course, we have to go through the proper channels for these incentives and find ways we can be of help. We want to do what is right for the homeowners and the business owners. The point of regrouping is figuring out where we go next. If we want to expand we need a better base. We need incentives, and we need ways in place to help the people.”