Sunday, June 10, 2012

Lexington Historic District, Part II

The second public hearing in regards to a proposed Local Historic District (LHD) for Lexington was held Thursday and there seemed to be something of a positive paradigm shift in the momentum favoring an LHD. At least, for now.

For one thing, members of the Historic Preservation Commission — Steve Hodges, Emma Apple, Catherine Hoffmann, Mickey Sharpe and Melinda Smith — all gave brief summaries of why they'd like to see an LHD approved. It was good to hear their voices and feel their passion for the project.

Secondly, the commission forthrightly addressed several questions raised by a number of concerned residents in May's initial public meeting. The net result of those concerns appears to be that the proposed guidelines are under constant review and revision. For example, energy efficient replacement windows may be acceptable if they conform to the historic nature of the building; vinyl paint may be acceptable, etc, etc.

This by itself seemed to allay some fears exhibited by several members of the community that their options were limited by "another layer of government." Options now appear to be broader than one might think. The guidelines are under constant revision thanks to community feedback. Maybe it turns out the government is really of, by, and for the people after all.

Thirdly, two residents of Thomasville were on hand to discuss how that city has moved forward with its historic district (actually, Thomasville has three historic districts). It was interesting to learn that Thomasville's first historic district received its initial impetus from a petition of 22 residents who wanted a district in place. By contrast, there is a petition in Lexington to reject an LHD. Thomasville's second district, of more than 150 properties, received 75 percent approval from its district residents.

LHDs must be doing just fine. There are 91 of them in North Carolina.

If there was a disappointing aspect to Thursday's meeting, it was that only 14 residents were on hand. Maybe the smaller turnout was one reason why the meeting seemed less confrontational than in May, but I don't think so. The commission disseminated a lot of material the other night, hopefully correcting some of the misinformation that seems to be floating around out there. More residents should attend these meetings for their educational value, if nothing else. We learned, for example, that more than 60 percent of the proposed district is rental property, some of which is maintained by absentee landlords who don't even live in Davidson County, much less Lexington. I didn't know that. And that knowledge could have an impact on how an LHD is implemented, if approved.

That's the whole point of these public hearings. As Hodges, the commission chairman, noted, if the LHD fails, he can live with it as long as the decision to reject it is based on correct information, and not misinformation. Amen to that.

But the correct information, as I see it, is compelling for an LHD: stable property values, protection from commercial development, an appealing and enhanced quality of life for its residents.

An LHD would be one of the rare times when I would want local government to step in. Instead of an added layer of bureaucracy, it seems more like an added layer of protection.

And amen to that, too.

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