Neighborhood Conservation plan could slow Tupelo demolition permits

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – It will be harder to demolish potentially historic buildings in Tupelo if a plan backed by the Tupelo Planning Committee wins City Council support.
Committee members Monday unanimously voted to create a Neighborhood Conservation District covering most of central Tupelo. No one could get a city permit to demolish a building over 50 years old within that district without triggering a review.
During that review, city planners would determine whether demolition might enhance the district or diminish its character, and they’d base the granting of that permit upon those findings. A permit could be immediately granted if, for example, the structure was dilapidated, incompatible with the neighborhood or if plans called for an even better structure to be built in its place.
If demolition could harm the district, the city would place a 90-day waiting period on issuing the permit.
“It’s kind of like a cooling-off period,” said City Planner Pat Falkner, who wrote and introduced the proposal to the committee. “It’s not that we’re looking at this as a way to deny demolition permits.”
Permits, in fact, will not be denied. If a property owner wanted to tear down a structure after the 90-day period, the city would issue the permit to do so. But the wait at least provides time to discuss other options.
Falkner said he doubts there’s enough political will to support flat-out permit denials, even if it could preserve potentially historic structures.
The proposal came on the heels of the Rogers Home controversy, in which First Baptist Church considered tearing down a 75-year-old home it owns to create more parking.
To save the home, the Tupelo Historic Preservation Commission designated it a local historic landmark. The move put a six-month hold on the church’s plans while the council decides whether to support or oppose the designation.
It’s a repeat of what happened two years ago with the Spain House, a century-old home that Calvary Baptist Church tried to demolish for expansion plans. Because the city has no policy protecting older structures, the Tupelo Historic Preservation Commission has assumed a reactionary role to save them.
It’s a position commission chairwoman Karen Keeney has said the group doesn’t relish, and one of the main reasons it supports the Neighborhood Conservation District idea.
“This is exactly what the city needs to help move forward, because it’s not always the place for the Historic Preservation Commission to save a property,” she said. “To have a review process for the city is very appropriate.”
The council could vote on the measure within the next several weeks.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com