Citizens lead preservation efforts

New Albany parking committee

From left around table are Leann Murphy, Scott Dunnam, Laura Dunnam, Tommy Sappington, Mayor Tim Kent and Joel Bennett discussing how to improve the city’s parking situation at their meeting Thursday.

What began Thursday as a meeting of the city parking committee ended up as the organizational meeting of the New Albany Historic Preservation Committee. Aldermen had tentatively approved using parking committee members as historic preservation committee members at their March meeting with almost no discussion. Alderman-at-Large Scott Dunnam brought the matter up, and was a supporter of the idea originally. The city board passed a Certified Local Government ordinance to establish a historical preservation authority and created a board in 2010, but it never got off the ground. A committee was named, Dunnam said, but never really met. The parking committee consists of Tommy Sappington as chairman, Gayle Rutledge, Emily Foreman, Leann Murphy and Kay Parsons. Also present Thursday were local developer Joel Bennett and Laura Dunnam. Representing the city were Alderman Dunnam and Ward One Alderman Jeff Olson. Rutledge, Foreman and Parsons, who is resigning, were not present. Although the city board has not acted, it appears likely the historic preservation committee will include Laura Dunnam, Sappington, Rutledge, Foreman, Murphy and Bennett. Certified Local Government is a joint federal, state and local partnership with the idea that grass-roots efforts are most effective in preserving historical resources. CLG was formally established by amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. The historic preservation committee is a product of becoming a CLG city with goals generally of surveying and registering historic properties and districts, enacting and enforcing ordinances to see that historic properties are not harmed, to nominate properties for the National Register of Historic Places, creating design review guidelines and providing assistance in obtaining grants and tax credits for work on historic buildings. The New Albany ordinance gives the committee even broader directives, including to “insure the harmonious, orderly and efficient growth and development of the city, “Stabilize the economy of the city through the continued use, preservation and revitalization of its resources” and “protect and enhance” the city’s attractions to tourists and promote the use of resources “for the education, pleasure and welfare of the people of this city.” Commission members are appointed by the city, is to consist of five members who are city residents and who will serve three-year staggered appointments. They can be re-appointed. The membership should reflect knowledge in history, architecture, urban planning, archaeology and law, according to the ordinance. Specific commission powers include recommending ordinances, historic districts or subdistricts and whether to grant applications to construct, alter, demolish or relocate any designated landmark. When the creation of a preservation committee was being discussed, a major source of contention was to what degree the commission would have authority to tell a property owner what he or she could or could not do with the property. An oft-cited example was that the commission could keep someone from painting a house (if designated as a landmark or in a district) purple. The ordinance specifically excludes color changes. Generally, though, the commission’s authority does not extend to the interior of a structure unless it is a public building with significant architectural detail that can be seen from outside, and is being allowed to deteriorate. Designating a landmark requires several steps, including a public hearing, and must meet standards. If someone wants to alter a designated landmark or historic site, he or she must obtain a “certificate of appropriateness” to certify the changes will be within commission guidelines. If a property owner disagrees with a ruling on a certificate, he or she can appeal it to the city board, and to circuit court. If a historic structure is seen to be deteriorating significantly, known as “demolition by neglect,” the commission and city can force the owner to makes repairs and bring it up to suitable condition. “CLG can be a powerful tool,” Dunnam said. “It can prevent people from having purple buildings and provide tax incentives to fix buildings up.” Sappington agreed there is a need for such a commission. “There used to be a lot of good architectural buildings, but they have all been torn down,” he said. The commission will be discussed again at the next aldermen’s meeting and Dunnam wants to get a state historical authority here for an upcoming meeting, saying members do need to have some training. “We may butt heads on historic district matters,” Dunnam said. “The single most important thing is preserving old buildings.” Although the group moved well into discussion of historic preservation, they also dealt with their original function in terms of improving the city parking situation. Mayor Kent reported that a seven-foot culvert had been purchased at a cost of about $6,000 to place in the ditch by the library parking lot. He said engineers recommended the larger round culvert over the slightly smaller “squashed” culvert originally discussed. In continuing efforts to find new parking, Alderman Dunnam brought up the idea of switching one side of the alley parking behind Van-Atkins and other businesses to angle parking instead of parallel parking. The committee would like to move the trash containers from next to Tanglefoot Trail at the alley corner but Sappington said there is an accessibility problem with apartment tenant parking. The present location is the only one city trucks can get access to, because tenants would likely block access anywhere else in the alley. Dunnam called an engineer who said the alley needs to be 30 feet wide for angle parking: 18 feet for angled parking and 12 for parallel on the other side, and it appears the alley is wide enough. The committee will look at this further. Mayor Kent said the city is ready to re-mark the parking spaces across from Latham’s, removing an angle parking space on the east side of the alley exit and changing the angle parking on the west side to two parallel spaces. He added the city has several striping and asphalt jobs lined up, such as a crosswalk and speed table on Garfield and pedestrian crossings on Bankhead, just waiting on good enough weather to do them. Sappington told the group that the TVA hybrid vehicle charging station the city is getting with its new hybrid bucket boom truck for New Albany Light, Gas and Water will be placed at the rear of Cooper Park. It will be a “fast” charger capable of charging two vehicles at a time, he said. The truck and charging station should be here in three to six months, the mayor said. This matter related to the still-proposed closing of the alley that extends Carter Avenue to Bankhead Street. The alley has been barricaded for several months on a trial basis, mostly because of safety reasons, the mayor said, citing increased foot traffic across the alley and the lack of visibility for drivers. Board action will be needed to officially close the alley and there was discussion of going ahead and designating one or two parking spaces at the mouth of the alley on Bankhead to discourage a tendency to try to use it. Mayor Kent said they had “found” 10 more parking spaces behind City Hall by planning to convert the area where two present parallel spaces near the railroad are 10 to angled spaces. Sappington talked about the increasing need for available parking due to increased visitor traffic to the city, saying he has talked with more and more people who just want to explore New Albany rather than coming for any specific purpose. “We need to figure out better use for the parking we already have and be a good neighbor,” Sappington said.