Transcript of staff and Council discussion, June 2, 2008, regarding a Resolution to rezone the Timberlake-Branham Farm as historic.
Participating in discussion-abbreviations used:
Craig BrownCity Attorney, CB
Doctor David Brown, Councilor, DB
Mrs. Holly Edwards, Councilor, HE
Mr. Satyendra Huja, Councilor, SSH
Mr. Dave Norris, Mayor, DN
Chief Julian Taliaferro, Vice-Mayor, Chief T
Mr. Jim Tolbert, Director of Neighborhood Development, JT
Note: there are links in the following transcript that will open a browser window to play the audio. The transcript is not finalized, there are areas that need further clarification. Please email (emory-at-historicwoolenmills.org) immediately if you can offer a more accurate transcription of these spoken words. Absolute accuracy is desired.
DN The next item on our agenda is a resolution initiating process for historic designation on Timberlake-Branham property, first of one reading, Craig Brown or Jim Tolbert? Jim Tolbert…
JT I’ll start and I think Craig can talk about the and he can fill in any details.
This was a request that was brought to staff by Mayor Norris that had received a request from the property-- or some of the Woolen Mills neighborhood to have Council look at designating this property as individually protected property, giving it that status.
I wish I could give you a complete and thorough background of this and try to tell you I understood everything that had happened over the last twenty years roughly with it but I am not sure that any of us actually have a real firm grasp on that.
What we do know is that at one point all of this was one tax parcel, one parcel. We do know that in 1989 it was subdivided by the property owner and cut into two parcels. We know that in 1993, it was, a portion of it was designated as an individually protected property by the City Council.
And I say a portion of it because when it was subdivided in eighteen, in 1989, it in fact became two parcels. Some of the confusion arises because because it was under the ownership of one property owner our assessor’s office never divided it on the tax maps as had been done with the recorded subdivision. So, as you looked at the tax maps and looked at the tax numbers there was one parcel of land when in fact it had been subdivided into at least two parcels.
That issue, again is the confusion, the tax maps are very very hard to follow. I wrote the staff report for this using the staff report that was used earlier for the Board of Zoning Appeals issue on the case (track 1-- 00:02:19) and I have a hard time following and understanding exactly what happened.
Think, subsequent to that though in 2003, the City Council adopted a new zoning ordinance. In the new zoning ordinance in 2003 we cleaned up, tried to cleanup, all the designations of Individually Protected Properties because some of the parcel numbers had changed. And the parcel number that was picked up at that time was the one for the smaller piece of property that contained the house, the structure. And and so, as of 2003, we believe it is clear that whether or not that was the intent originally or not at least in 2003 when the new ordinance was adopted, that property was the one that was designated by the new ordinance.
We believe, and the Board of Zoning Appeals believe that that is consistent with what truly happened in 1989 and 1993.
I know the neighborhood does not believe that, I wasn’t here, I have no, I don’t know what the intent was, and you talk to different people involved in the issue and there is all sorts of discussion about that.
That said, to fix the situation, there are two options that you have available to you I think.
One is, that you could choose to designate the property as an Individually Protected Property. I would suggest to you that we have concerns about that because it’s a vacant piece of property now, what is left. And I am not sure what we would hang our hat on as being significant about it to, in fact, designate it as an Individually Protected Property. I’ve looked and I don’t believe we’ve ever had a vacant property that’s been designated as an Individually Protected Property. (trk 01 --00:04:04)
The other option is that we are surveying that neighborhood right now, we will be finished with the report within sixty days. For, the survey will qualify the area for, certain pieces of it, we all, I haven’t seen the report, we don’t have it yet, but for state and national designation and, we very easily could come in and designate a portion of the Woolen Mills as a local historic district which could include houses and the surrounding parcels that are in between them. So, that is a way that you possibly could get this property designated for protection.
I think, just to make sure that everybody understands too, that designation of this property either way does not stop development of the property. All it would do was provide for design review of any development that occurred. The underlying zoning that is on it would govern what (track 2) is built on it. So, as it is in private ownership, as it is developed, it would develop as the zoning would allow but the designation would allow it to have design review.
I’d be glad to try to answer any questions, Craig, I don’t know if I’ve left anything out.
CB I will, Mr. Mayor, members of Council, I will just add that this, this is a resolution that would initiate a process. And, as I think you are probably aware, if you were to pass this resolution, it would go to the Board of Architectural review for their review and recommendation. It would then go to the City Planning Commission for a joint public hearing with City Council and a recommendation to Council. And then it would come back to Council for a final decision on whether this zoning, historic preservation overlay district, was applied to these individual properties.
It- just to fill in a little bit on the procedural background, the zoning administrator did make a decision that only the parcels with the historic house, and I think that is about nine tenths of an acre, is currently protected under our historic preservation ordinance as it was adopted in 2003.
There were certain residents of Woolen Mills that challenged that before the Board of Zoning Appeals unsuccessfully. They subsequently filed a lawsuit against the City in City Circuit Court which was also dismissed before trial. So now, I think that is how its lead up to being before you.
Now I’ll just echo what Mr. Tolbert said, I don’t think we have traditionally designated individual vacant properties for protection under our design control ordinance.
There is enabling legislation to do that and it’s called “historic areas” and basically it has to be a site where some historic event occurred or that has some type of perhaps archaeological value that warrants the preservation or the designation.
Typically, how vacant properties have come within the scope of our design control ordinance is when they are part of a design district as Mr. Tolbert has alluded to. Vacant property that is located downtown and within the Downtown Design Control district would be subject to the ordinance because it is within that designated district. It has not traditionally been individually designated in the City.
Now I don’t know what the specific request made here was. I will note that when we were in Court, the request was to have all the outlying parcels designated as protected under the Historic Design Control Ordinance, and that included the vacant property which Mr. Tolbert has referred to as well as the developed property which I think now includes the Woolen Mills Self Storage. That was the request that was presented to the Court. It was a little bit broader than just the vacant property. (track 200:03:28)
SSH I have two comments. First, I tried to work with Mr. Tolbert to figure out what the property in question was. I don’t think we still have figured that out. And I have a map, if you want to do a resolution, we need to have to have a extra (???) property boundary or something to say what we are trying to talk about.
Secondly, I want to publicly acknowledge that I was here when this thing happened, I do, I signed the subdivision plat myself. So I know that things have happened. And I publicly acknowledge it, so any conflict, I didn’t make any money out of it except that, I don’t have a legal conflict of interest but I do formally acknowledge publicly that I did sign the subdivision plat. I was the one who was the (???) planning director when subdivision, some special permit issues, so those are history and I am aware of that.
DN Can you shed light then on this issue of whether or not the historic status should have stayed with the entirewith all the parcels?
SSH At that time there was only one parcel, after it was subdivided, there was a different number, to the parcel number, Our-- if you look at the planning records it is very clear what was zoned, what received Special Permit, what the problem was the tax records, that showed, they never changed the tax records. So if you look at this (???) (track 3) clear, a bigger plat, very clear, a recorded plat. See, the assessor does not have to follow, or did not follow the subdivision acknowledgement because they were under the same property owner or the same property owners.
I do sympathize with the neighbor’s concerns and I think that the idea of having some kind of local historic district maybe afford the way to deal with it.
DB Can I ask-- We were kindly provided with the Survey of National Register properties and looking at that, under the Timberlake Branham house it lists the dimensions of the property as being 6.83 acres.
Does that imply that the intention was to designate that entire property historic?
SSH (???) That was a historic survey, that was historic property as it was.
JT Which would have traditionally looked at the tax map and recorded this property size of the parcel being looked at as whatever the tax record shows. Again it didn’t, for whatever reason they didn’t pick up the three year prior subdivision, so…
DN (???) Just to give a more direct answer…
JT I don’t know if you can imply that or not. Again, I’m, you know, typically, when you do those surveys you take the tax parcel, and when you refer to the property, and the size of the tax parcel. So the person doing the survey would have looked at it as one parcel…
DB Would look in the book and see 56-40.4 and that the size of that parcel was 6.8 acres…
JT Right, and they would have been surveying the entire parcel. Now whether or not, when it got to be acted on, that was what was the intent, I don’t know but they would have looked at it as that one entire parcel.
Now there is no doubt that had the snafu not occurred with the property designation, that, if it had truly been one property, it was completely eligible for the entire six plus acres to be designated at that time as an individually protected property.
There is no doubt that that was eligible.
DB Well maybe I should ask this in a different way. Since it was divided in 1989 into two pieces, right?
DB Could it have been designated, both of those pieces together, at that time? The issue I am trying to get at was a mistake made or, where was a mistake made, a mistake was made somewhere. Or was…
SSH That was the reason it was divided, that you could designate one property to be historic. That is the reason they were divided.
That is my recollection.
JT And that is what the property owner at the time said. That that is the reason that they subdivided.it. They had no problem and supported the home being designated but they didn’t want the remaining property. I again, it is easy to say now, and I’m not sure, but you know, I have to take them at their word.
DB But then it does, because we have an interest in creating a remedy, there is two choices, with one choice is to designate the lot that is empty, which sounds problematic, it doesn’t really fit exactly the definition of that. And the other choice that you presented us with which was to do a more overall designation of a district.
DB Assuming a best case scenario of putting this at the top of your to do list and getting it on agendas in a extremely timely fashion. Putting it atop of everybody’s to do list, how long would that take?
JT We believe that the survey work will be completed in thirty days, I said sixty to give a little fudge, but we’ve got, if you may recall, that I came to you a couple of months ago and you allowed us to move some money to engage somebody to complete that and we have done that. She is getting close to being finished.
The national and state stuff will not go on the state agenda until December, the state designation, but this could go in front of that and, if it was done, lets split the difference and say forty-five days, it could go to an, assuming the neighborhood is on board with whatever that comes out of it, it could go to an August BAR, September Planning Commission and October City Council.
And I would also add that we have no development proposals in line and none that, you know, they would almost have to meet that same schedule to get ahead of this so.
(track 4) They’d have to come in in the next thirty days to beat this, a legitimate proposal.
DN On the process side. Some folks have said there was a precedent for creating mistakes made in 2003 when we made an adjustment on a property on Fontaine Avenue. Within the last year I believe. Can you…
DB Within the last couple of months…
DN Can you explain, is that a fair comparison or is that apples and oranges?
JT I think it is apples and oranges. That was a legitimate, clearly visible, rezoning, an error in the zoning map, and it was requested by the owner of that property, and it went through a public hearing process to get it changed.
I think we knew that, we’ve known that one happened for four years and just have been telling the property owner if they wanted to deal with it, they had to apply to deal with it. But, it was clear, when you go back and, you go back and look at the pre 2003 map, it showed commercial on it, this one, there is nothing that shows it.
DN Mrs. Edwards?
HE I was going to ask the same analogy because I think the error is the same it’s just one is clear and one is unclear. And I think because the complexity of the history, it is kind of unknown, it’s hard to make a judgment call.
So, I guess I’d like to know if a better way to proceed is to support the neighborhood in the historic overlay, proceed with that, however that needs to happen. And include that property within that, instead of trying to designate it…
JT We think that would be the most defensible way to go about it, to get it done.
HE Because from hearing the family that visited, I think that we all recognize the fact that if someone wanted to develop on it they’d, they still have that option. But at least with this, there would be endpoint, input and the neighbors and the family involved would have a voice in what would happen and I think that is important.
Chief T Yeah, I would like for you to go ahead and do the survey I think is what I would like to see. And, if we can include it in that, it appears to me to be the best way to probably do that, from what I am hearing anyway.
I certainly want to try to do what the neighborhood wants, but I am just trying to figure a way we can do it and we can defend it.
DB I wanted to come in here tonight and create an argument for myself and for others that a mistake was just made. And if that were the case, that we should go ahead and correct the mistake and see if we couldn’t defend correcting that mistake. But after hearing Mr. Huja speak and hearing Mr. Tolbert speak I actually don’t really haven’t really convinced myself that a mistake was made, it sounds like it was intentional. That it, that the property was divided in order to avoid having to go, having to undergo BAR review, which I find very disheartening. I certainly hope that that is not something we would participate in now as we designate other individual properties, that we are not going to be party to someone coming in and saying “I want to avoid design review, can you go ahead and divide this before you designate these properties” and I am particularly disheartened then we proceeded to appoint the property owner to the BAR.
JT He is not the one.
DB He was not the one. OK. Then I take back that comment. I’ll retract that one.
SSH As you know, anybody can apply for subdivision, by right, there is a discretionary (???) for the City. Anybody can apply for subdivision if they meet the (???) requirements, you have to approve it.
DN Well I also don’t want to take away from Mr. Coiner’s service on the BAR. I think he made very many valuable contributions on the BAR but I understand your…
DB OK. And I agree so I am less disappointed now to learn that that it wasn’t his property when this was done so. But so, but for those reasons I sort of also agree, I think we need to go through a process and I’d like to see it expedited, I’d like to see it be something that is, that we really see if we can’t make it happen by the early fall.
SSH But I think there is the a great deal of merit in the Woolen Mills neighborhood, a number of structures a number of properties have a history which ought to be preserved and which ought to be respected, and this could be part of that.
DN I am willing to support that path forward. I would hold this in reserve, the option of revisiting this if that process does not prove fruitful in addressing this in a more wholistic way but I think we have the opportunity at that point to open up this discussion again.
So, you don’t need any official action from us? Just keep moving forward.
Thank-you very much.