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Historic Preservation Commission

Some earlier posts have indicated a lack of confidence in the Historic Preservation Commission. Based on my experience with the Commission over the past twenty years, most of the Commission members are passionate about preservation and want to do the right thing. If the demolition of East Clinton comes to a public hearing, it's pretty certain there will be Commission members who will follow the guidelines of the Commission and strongly advocate for preservation of the building. Likewise there may be some members arguing for demolition, based on subjective criteria like improving property values, the rights of property owners, neighborhood beautification and incompatibility. As was the case with the recent demolition on Echols, members of the public will be there, both for and against demolition. The following is an excerpt from the Commission's guideline regarding demolition. Are the guidelines unclear or open to interpretation?

A Guide to Design Review in Huntsville’s Historic Districts

3.6 Demolition Guidelines

1. Demolition Not Appropriate for Contributing Buildings. The demolition of contributing buildings is not appropriate. The Commission may only grant a certificate of appropriateness for the demolition of a contributing building where it finds that: the public safety is endangered or the building is no longer contributing to the district.

2. Demolition May be Appropriate for Noncontributing Buildings. Demolition is appropriate if a building is noncontributing or has lost its architectural significance or integrity and if its demolition would have a positive effect on the overall appearance and character of a district.

4. Replacement. In reviewing the appropriateness of any demolition request, the Commission may consider the proposed reuse of the property to determine if the demolition will have a positive effect on the overall appearance and character of a district. Accordingly, the Commission may withhold a certificate of appropriateness for a demolition request until such time as a certificate of appropriateness has been approved for any new construction on the site.

5. There shall be a presumption that a building is contributing to the historic district if the building is more than fifty years of age. The Commission may determine that a particular building does not contribute to the historic district if the Commission determines that it has lost its historical or architectural integrity or is otherwise inconsistent with the historic character of the district. For guidance, the Commission will use appropriate publications by the National Park Service regarding the National Register of Historic Places.

Submitted by 2 years ago

Comments (1)

  1. This is a very important letter by an architect with much experience in historic neighborhoods. East Clinton School is in the Old Town Historic District and therefore subject to the Guide to Design Review in Huntsville's Historic Districts, from which Mr. Nola quotes four paragraphs. The demolition of the school, to be requested ot the Huntsville Historic Preservation Commission on March 11, would clearly violate the rules.

    Built in 1938, the school is a noteworthy example of Art Deco architecture which has retained its primary architectural integrity. It occupies the site not only of Huntsville's first public school but of an earlier private school, whose deed to the city actually stipulates that the site remain for school use. It is thus of both unusual architectural and unusual historical significance.

    But finding an appropriate use for the structure is not just a matter of legalities. Building preservation in historic districts is important becauses it is a city's visible memory of the past. It is a past with special personal meaning for so many: those having attended there, or whose family has, or whose neighbors or friends have.

    It would be a terrible error if the oldest portion, at least, of East Clinton were to be demolished as the pending proposal asks. Use as a private school, as reported in the Huntsville Times on Feb. 3, seems a potentially ideal solution, saving a city landmark and keeping continuity with a 19th century educational vision.

    (William Munson)

    2 years ago

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    2 years ago