Public hearing may determine future of new historic district

By HASKEL BURNS,

Hattiesburg City Council members will use the results of an upcoming public hearing to help determine whether to proceed with the creation of a new local historic district in downtown Hattiesburg that would complement the current National Register of Historic Places designation and help protect historic buildings and sites.

The hearing will be hosted by the Hattiesburg Historic Conservation Commission at 5:30 p.m. July 17 at Jackie Dole Sherrill Community Center, 22 West Front St. in Hattiesburg. During the event, residents will be able to gather information, ask questions and address concerns about the proposed district.

At the end of the public hearing, the nine-member conservation commission will take a vote whether to recommend the creation of the district to council members.

“If they do recommend that it becomes a conservation district, then it will be referred to the city council for them to take action within 60 days of that public hearing,” said Russell Archer, historic preservation planner for the city. “(If so), council would take the recommendation of the conservation commission and they would vote whether or not to adopt an ordinance creating that conservation district for downtown.

“It would not go to council at all if (the conservation commission) voted to not recommend it, because at that point, I think it would be sort of a dead proposition to put that ordinance into place.”

The Hub City Downtown Historic District, which was proposed at an October city council meeting, would incorporate five existing areas to form the district. Those areas – which include Town Square Park, the Mobile Street corridor, the city parking lot on Railroad Street, railroad yards along Gordon Street and structures along the north side of Hardy Street toward downtown – would be integrated to form another district similar to the Parkhaven or Newman-Buschman districts.

“Currently, we have a nationally-registered historic district in downtown Hattiesburg that offers incentives, but doesn’t actually offer any local protection for the historic buildings downtown,” said Ginger Lowrey, planning division manager at the Department of Urban Development, in a previous story.

At that meeting, Archer told council members the downtown area currently consists of 202 official “resources,” including buildings, bridges and railroads. The new designation would bring that number up to 250.

According to numbers provided by department officials, the downtown area has lost 78 structures to demolition or new construction since the 1960s.

“The best way to protect and maintain our downtown, while guiding future development, is to look at it as a locally-designated historic district under city ordinance,” Archer said.

The new district would require building owners seeking to make external changes to facilities to contact the Department of Urban Development to seek a Certificate of Appropriateness, which is separate from a building permit. Interior changes are not reviewed by that commission.

As another part of the process, council members voted last week to adopt an order declaring an interim approval procedure for the potential historic district. That order would route any requests within the district through the conservation commission.

“They oversee all of our existing conservation districts, which are primarily residential areas right now,” Archer said. “So they would begin to look also at applications for building projects that come through that proposed conservation district area.

“This is more or less a temporary measure that would require that extra level of review, to make sure that any building projects that occur downtown (are within standards). Exterior changes only would be appropriate for the historic character that we have downtown right now.”

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