Bel Air community adds protection

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town_tupelo_greenBy Robbie Ward

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Bel Air residents plan to follow two city neighborhood associations that have agreed to add another layer of protection for property owners worried about undesirable houses replacing those destroyed by the April 28 tornado.

After the City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a neighborhood conservation overlay district for Sharon Hills, a small neighborhood of about 40 homes, Bel Air remains the sole area with significant damage ready to approve a resident-led committee to determine if new construction or major external home repairs meet neighborhood standards.

Residents in each of the three areas describe renewed neighborhood spirit as property owners plan to rebuild. Recovery efforts from the storm also have turned into concerns about man-made threats to neighborhoods – rogue, out-of-town developers concerned only with making a profit, not neighborhood integrity.

“We really want to protect our property values,” said Sherry Elmore, Bel Air Neighborhood Association president. “I bought my house to be the home I can grow old in.”

Similar sentiments echo from neighborhood leaders in Sharon Hills and Joyner, the first to pass the conversation overlay district.

Each of the overlay districts create five-member design review committees of neighborhood residents who determine if site and floor plans, full elevation drawings and a list of exterior materials for new construction and major outside repairs match the area’s character prior to the tornado.

The city won’t provide building permits unless the committee approves the project. Neighborhood associations select three committee members, while the council person representing that area and Mayor Jason Shelton each select a member.

Kathryn Rhea, Sharon Hills Neighborhood Association president, said she and others have had to adjust to dozens of trees destroyed, leaving the previously shaded area feeling naked.

“We never had to put sunscreen on walking in the neighborhood,” Rhea said recently. “Now, it’s blistering out there.”

Lots more sunshine and higher power bills resulting from fewer trees have turned into reality for Sharon Hills residents, but they plan to grow neighborly bonds as young trees take root.

Ideas for neighborhood conservation overlay districts in Tupelo started during discussions to protect older, declining neighborhoods with code enforcement issues. However, city leaders decided to first offer the land-use protections to areas directly impacted by the tornado.

However, Shelton said he anticipates other neighborhoods have the option in the relatively near future.

“We want citizens of each neighborhood to decide if they want something like this,” he said. “Every neighborhood is unique.”

robbie.ward@journalinc.com