A member of the Pine Bluff City Council has suggested that the Historical District Commission needs better oversight from the council, and maybe a committee to report to.
Council member Joni Alexander, in an email to the other members of the council, Mayor Shirley Washington and the media late Tuesday said “We have to be realistic when considering conditions of these buildings and stop putting the burden on potential property owners.”
Her email followed a proposed ordinance sponsored by Council member Bruce Lockett that would require owners of property in the historical district who want to restore, rehabilitate or demolish their property to first obtain a certificate of appropriateness from the commission.
Lockett said that in the past, some city departments had issued permits to property owners in the district without them obtaining permission to do work on the property from the historical district commission, and the proposed ordinance only restates what the law already requires.
In her email, Alexander recommended that the proposed ordinance be pulled before any action could be taken but Lockett arrived too late to attend the pre-meeting where issues like that are decided. The proposal was read once and put on the calendar.
Alexander said that the historical district boundaries have not been surveyed since 2006 and since that time, a number of buildings that were architecturally then are no longer in existence or considered non-contributing to the district as a result of wear and tear and vandalism.
She included a letter from Randy Wilcox, the National Register and Survey Coordinator for the Arkansas Historical Preservation Program which recommended the new survey and said there would probably be an impact on tax credits since a new survey and nomination would probably result in changing the district’s boundaries, making the district smaller than it currently is, and probably also result in fewer buildings that would qualify for tax credits since fewer buildings would be in the district.
Alexander also included a letter from the Department of Arkansas Heritage which indicated that contrary to rumors, property owners who “gut” their buildings and remove the roofs would not qualify as a contributing resource to the historical district.
Frances “Missy” McSwain, the Director and Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer said in the letter which was addressed to Carla Covey, the Special Projects Coordinator for the Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Department that “I order for a building to be contributing, it would need to reflect the commercial or architectural importance of the historic district. More than likely, if the building was important commercially, it would have had a roof at the time it was used for commercial activities. If the building was important architecturally, the roof is an integral part of a building’s design and architecture.”
That letter was dated Aug, 29,2016 and shows that a copy was also sent to former Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth.
Alexander specifically mentioned Danny Bradshaw, doing business as Mr. Brick, who owns buildings in the 300 block of Main Street and has been denied permission to tear down those buildings by the historical district commission.
A structural inspection report prepared in September, 2018 by Hall Engineering Group of Little Rock said the buildings, which are located between 305 and 313 Main Street are “in poor condition for its age.”
Specifically, the report mentioned significant cracking on the west wall facing the street, up to one-inch wide; significant bucking on the south wall with horizontal cracks running the length of the wall approximately 7 inches apart; on the north wall, there are sections of brick where the mortar has deteriorated to the point where it can be removed with a finger; the front wall of the building is leaning 5.5 inches; the side of the building is leaning about 12 inches and the same alley wall is leaning 13 inches; the leaning has caused the roof to fall in the rear of 309 and 311 Main; both walls of 313 Main are bowed 12 inches
The report went on to say that “There is some risk of bricks of pieces of the wall falling if not the whole wall.”
It recommended that the small unit on the north end of the building, which houses Pops Barber and Beauty Shop be repaired by stopping the leaks on the roof but recommended that the rest of the building be torn down.
Alexander went on to say that while her home is on the National Register, “when preservation hinders progress, I have an issue. In order to move forward, we must reevaluate our methods and make sure we are being pro-active vs. reactive.”
A list of the seven members of the Historical District Commission showed that the terms of two of them, Chair Dee Herring-Gatlin and Dave Sadler expired on April 19.