Jul 26, 2014

An Historic Decision in Decatur?

State and local historic preservation planners will explain the benefits of listing downtown Decatur in the National Register of Historic Places

An Historic Decision in Decatur?

State and local historic preservation planners will explain the benefits of listing downtown Decatur in the National Register of Historic Places during a meeting Thursday, Feb. 24, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., at .

The public information meeting is the culmination of nearly two years of work that state and City of Decatur historic preservation planners hope will spur investment in Decatur’s business district.

The National Register of Historic Places is one of several historic preservation tools used to inventory and protect important buildings, landscapes, and archaeological sites.

Unlike local historic preservation laws that are tied to land use planning and zoning, the 1966 federal Historic Preservation Act that created the National Register was intended to create a list of places that have architectural and historical significance. Being listed in the National Register imposes no new regulatory obligations on private property owners.

"National Register districts get confused with local districts," said Lynn Speno, a National Register specialist with the Georgia Historic Preservation Division. "The National Register doesn’t put any restrictions and people have the misconception that there will be restrictions put on their property such as painting the color of the house. But there are no restrictions.”

Locally designated historic districts require property owners to get certificate of appropriateness from a regulatory agency or board before exterior alterations like new additions or demolition of a property on a local list of historic places. 

Reviewers also evaluate new construction in designated historic districts. In Decatur, those applications are reviewed  by the Historic Preservation Commission, a seven-member volunteer body that meets monthly.

Listing in the National Register is honorific. Getting listed in the National Register involves completing a research form that includes a detailed history, descriptions of buildings, and formal boundaries for the district.

The research is first reviewed by the Georgia Register Review Board. Once approved at the state level, the nomination gets reviewed by the National Park Service, which oversees the National Register program. The final decision is made by federal  officials and the result is published in the Federal Register. There currently are more than 1.4 million buildings, sites, and districts listed in the National Register.

In addition to new bragging rights, historic property owners get access to a wide buffet of tax credits and economic incentives to spruce up their properties and expand their businesses. There are federal tax credits available to income-producing properties, state tax credits for rehabilitated properties, and a state preferential tax assessment.

Decatur historic preservation planner Regina Brewer points to the project that is underway in downtown Decatur.

“They’re getting about $600,000 worth of incentives,” she said.

The restaurant is moving to a larger space and the historic preservation incentives are paying for part of the construction costs.

The Decatur Downtown Historic District covers about 70 acres and includes about 101 properties built between the 1820s and the late 1960s. Buildings in the new historic district include ones you would expect, like the old courthouse and the 1830s High House. Later buildings, like the Decatur High School building, which was built in 1965 and designed by noted local architects Bothwell and Nash, and the 1967 DeKalb County Courthouse also made the cut.

The Georgia Review Board voted unanimously January 28 to add the historic district to the Georgia Register and to forward the nomination to the National Register. The National Park Service could get the nomination package by the end of this year. 

Decatur’s Brewer, who has been on the job for about three years, believes that the National Register is good for the city.

“Certainly local designation is what protects properties but I believe that preservation incentives are a better fit for Decatur,” Brewer said. “I'm pushing for it so hard given this economy.”

Brewer and her state counterparts will be at the meeting to answer questions about the historic district and they will be making a presentation on the economic incentives available to property owners in the new historic district.

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