OUR OPINION: Protection for recovery spreads in neighborhoods

Tupelo’s neighborhoods most affected by the April 28 tornado continue moving toward a new layer of city-sanctioned protection to sustain and enhance property values and quality of life during recovery and rebuilding.

Tupelo’s City Council voted Tuesday night, on request from the Sharon Hills neighborhood, to enact regulations requiring a design review committee’s approval before residences can be repaired or rebuilt in the enduring post-World War II development surrounded on the south and north by more recent commercial ventures.

Sharon Hills is a hilly and formerly heavily wooded area on the west side adjacent North Gloster Street north of the McCullough Boulevard interchange. It was heavily damaged by the EF3 tornado that first struck parts of western Tupelo, the Joyner neighborhood and the Bel Air neighborhood north of McCullough along and near Country Club Road.

The compact neighborhood has only a few dozen residences and no businesses.

Participants in Sharon Hills’ neighborhood meeting voted overwhelmingly in support of the protective overlay.

A five-member design review committee in Sharon Hills will decide whether to approve plans to repair or rebuild homes. A public hearing before the vote provided opportunity for supporters and detractors to state their case to the City Council.

The neighborhood association represents about 40 households, and those residents voted a 24-1 to back the idea of a design review committee of neighbors approving site and floor plans, full elevation drawings and related exterior materials list for construction and repair prior to property owners receiving building permits.

The neighborhood’s democratic initiative in seeking the protection strengthens passage of the regulations.

Many Sharon Hills residents fear the possibility of developers building investment housing that could lower property values, a widespread concern in other damaged Tupelo neighborhoods as well as in other cities after natural disasters.

The council unanimously approved a similar type of overlay district for the Joyner neighborhood two weeks ago, and another neighborhood, Bel Air, has voted on its own version of an overlay district that is expected to go to the council in coming weeks.

The overlay districts aren’t necessarily permanent. Residents can vote to eliminate them after six months, with council approval.

“It will stay in place until the neighborhood decides to dissolve it,” Mayor Jason Shelton said Monday. “If they decide to get rid of it, they can vote it out just like they voted it in.”

Bel Air, the third neighborhood association to consider a conservation overlay district, approved a version that includes streets with properties directly impacted by the tornado.