FAYETTEVILLE — Concerned residents were informed neither the city nor a preservation organization could intervene into what happens to a house in one of the city’s historical districts.
About 15 residents attended the Historical District Commission meeting Thursday night to voice concerns over the future of the Stone-Hilton House. The house was purchased recently and is in the Washington-Willow Historic District at the corner of Lafayette Street and Willow Avenue.
Commission Chairwoman Christine Myres said because the house is privately owned and there’s no city-preservation ordinance in place, there’s nothing that can be done outside of pleading with the owner and demonstrating how much the house means to the community.
An ordinance or a preservation easement from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program could both limit what changes could be made to the exterior features of the house but because there is none, the commission “has no teeth,” Myres said.
Resident Bob Stafford said the meeting didn’t alleviate any concerns he had about the future for the house.
“The major concern is the fear Fayetteville is going to lose it,” Stafford said. “This is a house in the heart of the historic district and I don’t know one person who doesn’t treasure this house.”
Stafford said most of the fear stems from no one knowing what the buyer’s intentions are for the house and the fact the buyer is unknown at the moment has only added to the concern.
However, the new owner has met with an architect and has looked into historic restoration, said Martha Haguewood, Realtor for the Stone-Hilton House.
Catherine Barrier, the certified local government coordinator for the preservation program, spoke to residents at the meeting about what the city is doing to preserve historic structures and what the preservation program could do to help, but also said the organization can do nothing to help preserve a building privately owned.
However, public support could help change that going forward.
Myres said the recent public outcry over the Stone-Hilton House and other historic buildings in the area may be the support the commission needs to help pass a city preservation ordinance in the next year or two. She said there have been several attempts in the past 30 years to pass an ordinance but they have always failed due to lack of support because of people being uninformed or not wanting to be told what to do with their property.
Barrier said there were only 20 cities in Arkansas with a preservation ordinance in place.
If an ordinance were to pass, it could lead to property owners in one of the city’s historic districts to lose decision-making power when it comes to the appearance of their property.
In a memo to Mayor Lionel Jordan on May 22, the city’s assistant attorney Blake Pennington explained how if the City Council decided to place restrictions on any of the five historic districts on the National Register of Historic Places, it would cause residents residing in those districts to have to get a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Historic District Commission before they could alter any “exterior architectural feature” of their property.
Designating districts as historic could result in the city having to compensate property owners in the districts if it could be proven the establishment of these areas reduces the property value by 20 percent, according to the Private Property Protection Act the state Legislature passed in 2015.
Fayetteville’s five historic districts include the Mount Nord Historic District, Mount Sequoyah Cottages Historic District, Washington-Willow Historic District, West Dickson Street Commercial Historic District and Wilson Park Historic District.
Alexander Nicoll may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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