Historic Preservation Ordinance

The neon Howard Theater sign in downtown is one of the places in Taylor that would be protected under the city's preservation ordinance.

Photo by Jason Hennington

Some members of the public who attended Monday’s presentation about a proposed ordinance to protect historic buildings and neighborhoods pushed back sharply.

“Ordinances like this grow like wildfire,” warned Cole Reed. He said he’s had to deal with Georgetown’s historic preservation commission and said it’s not a pleasant experience. “They fight every step of the way. The perception of ‘we want to help you’ has some very sharp teeth.

Grant money comes with strings.”

Gary Brock noted his skepticism of government at all levels and warned that, with this ordinance could come a “preservation czar” who would make remodeling buildings in any historic district expensive and time consuming.

“If a permit is required, it opens a gigantic bucket of worms,” said Reed.

Nancci Phillips-Burgess, who the Taylor City Council asked to lead the task force, opened the presentation by saying the ordinance does not require any property owner to do anything.

“When you do decide on an improvement significant enough to pull a permit, these guidelines can help you preserve the character of your property and neighborhood,” she said. “Almost every city you have ever visited that has buildings of historic significance had an ordinance and guidelines like these.”

The ordinance envisions a large swath of central Taylor will eventually fall under its protection but Phillips-Burgess said the first application will be to historic buildings in downtown.

Her presentation included photos of several unoccupied buildings and other photos of iconic Taylor sites like the white elephant on Main Street, the Chevrolet sign, the now-restored McCrory-Timmerman Building and Howard Theater’s neon sign.

Reed latched onto that image.

“What if I want to sell my sign?” he asked, then quickly added, “I don’t, so put away your pitchforks and torches.”

Reed noted the sign is private property and asked if the proposed ordinance would prevent him from selling.

Phillips-Burgess said the ordinance doesn’t specifically address that issue but other communities ask that, should a building owner be in the position of selling an iconic feature, the city be given first right of refusal to offer a fair market price for the item.

After learning that his copy of the proposed ordinance was outdated, Brock asked for a current version. Phillips-Burgess replied that drafts changed after every public presentation so the task force was holding the drafts closely to avoid confusion.

For instance, she said, early drafts mandated paint colors. More recent drafts of the ordinance removed language mandating color selections and, instead, offer suggested color pallets, “Just like you see at Home Depot or Lowe’s.”

Brock objected. “Why can’t I see a copy of the document?”

After the meeting, some members of the task force agreed that having drafts of the ordinance available to the public would be a good idea.

Cliff Ollie called for a re-write of Taylor’s ordinances.

“We already have a very onerous system and this adds another layer,” he said. “Let’s simplify this stuff and, where it comes to historic buildings, take into account that some of our building codes make it impossible to keep some features.”

“The real problem in not implementing this ASAP is things will continue to be lost,” said Phillips-Burgess. “[Re-writing the code] could take forever and, in the meantime, the loss continues.”

The task force hopes for an aggressive approval timeline. There will be another public presentation Aug. 20, then the task force will deliver an update to the city council on Sept. 13 with the hope of introducing a final version in October.

A series of public hearings must be held before any ordinance is adopted.

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