Residents hoping to save dilapidated homes seek historic district status
JEFFERSON CITY – Some Jefferson City residents are hoping to save five dilapidated but historic houses from demolition by getting their neighborhood declared a local historic district. It would be Jefferson City's first.
Concerned residents, council members and city staff recently discussed the future of the neighborhood bordered by East McCarty, Lafayette, East Miller and Marshall streets.
Residents Jenny Smith and Jane Beetem are among those working on an application to give the neighborhood “official” historic status.
“We started back in February when the city announced they wanted to consider demolishing one or more of the houses they owned in this area and caught us by surprise,” Beetem said.
Smith owns a home on East McCarty Street and said she is against the demolition because there is a rich history in the area that deserves to be preserved.
“This part of the city represents a historic area that was once populated by a black community that was actually confined to this area,” Smith said. “They couldn’t live in other parts of the city. It’s what was called red lining. East McCarty, where our house was on, is one of those red lines.”
The application is not a simple process, and there are other reasons for the demolition. The homes in the area are in FEMA-drawn floodplain lines (see map below), and subject to many more regulations on what can be done with the properties.
The area is part of the Central East Side Neighborhood Plan, which the city established in 2006, suggesting the homes eventually be turned into green space. City officials discourage building in floodplains.
The city and the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department currently own five properties in that area, including 408 and 410 Lafayette St., 602 and 606 E. McCarty St. and 623 School St.
“Recently, in the past several years, a lot of properties down by Lafayette, School Street and McCarty, people have either donated the homes to the city or they were purchased by people who were not able to get building permits for the flood plain regulations,” said Sonny Sanders the director of Planning and Protective Services for Jefferson City.
He said the homes would be extremely difficult to fix up due to extensive damage.
One of the homes on Lafayette was purchased by the city before the floodplain was redrawn. Plans to rehabilitate it for low-to-moderate income residents fell through.
“When the flood maps changed, part of the building came in the floodplain and we weren’t able to use any more federal money on it. So we can’t do any more work,” Sanders said.
If the city does not demolish the home, it could have to pay back about $80,000 to the federal government.
SUBSTANTIAL IMPROVEMENT RULE
The city cannot afford to do any more work on the home due to FEMA’s substantial improvement rule.
Sanders said the only option is to demolish the house or sell it for the current value because the substantial improvement rule does not allow homeowners to spend more than 50 percent of what the home is worth on improvements.
According to FEMA, to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, communities must enforce special regulations that apply to any new develop in floodplains.
Because of this rule, in part, buyers did not get proper permits and had to abandon their projects. Eventually, many owners offered the properties up to the city because they could not complete the work necessary to fix up the homes.
APPLYING FOR A LOCAL HISTORIC DISTRICT
If an area is declared a local historic district, FEMA regulations, such as the substantial improvement rule, can be lifted.
"For instance, when they did come in and get a building permit there wouldn’t be any limit on the amount of money they could spend improving that house," Sanders said.
Beetem said property owners could also receive subsidized flood insurance if the properties are declared historic.
“My role in this project is to develop a lot of the materials for our application for a local historic district,” Beetem said. "We’ve developed a history of the neighborhood which is written up, we have developed the architectural description of the property and also design guidelines to help the city staff to use as criteria.”
Beetem said the application includes 27 homes in the area.
“The last thing we have to do is get notarized signatures from people who live in the area. We have to get 75 percent of signatures from people who live in the area,” Beetem said.
Some city officials said there would still be restrictions to consider when building, such as stricter requirements for design and getting a permit.
Beetem said there would still be restrictions on renovating the homes. Property owners would be required to minimize flooding risks, like moving certain appliances above the flood base level.
Smith said, if the city sells all the properties, she believes it can make back any money it loses on the house with federal money ties.
The City Council passed a moratorium extension in September to allow more time for the application process. The extension ends on Friday.
Beetem will update the City Council on the progress of the application on Nov. 20. She said she will try to request another moratorium if residents need more time to collect signatures.
If the council says the residents can go forward with the process, the Historic Preservation Commission would look over the application, and the council would make the final decision.