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Columbia residents applying as a Historic District Overlay to preserve neighborhood


A group of Columbia residents in an old southwest neighborhood is trying to get their neighborhood designated as a Historic District Overlay. The group says they jump-started the process after they found out one house has plans for demolition.

Nick Foster, the Ward 4 council member for the City of Columbia, says he understands both sides of the debate. He says the group wants to protect the integrity of the neighborhood and, "what it looks like". He also says the homeowners on the 600 block of Westmount Avenue are within their legal rights to request a demolition.

The old redbrick houses in this neighborhood stand out from modern suburban homes around Columbia. But the owners of the home set to be demolished say previous owners of the home removed the historic elements five to 10 years ago. They say they have been studying renovations with contractors and architects for the past year.

"The sad reality is the home is not historic," owner Brock Rule said. "The exterior is structurally unsound."

One member of the neighborhood group says they are sad that their neighbors are tearing down their house. They hope that a Historic District Overlay classification will prevent future projects like this.

The Historic District Overlay would be similar to an H.O.A., and residents can set guidelines for how the homes have to look and be maintained.

However, Rusty Palmer with the City of Columbia says that even properties on the National Register of Historic Places are, "not completely protected from potential demolition."

On Monday, the 45-day review period for the demolition permit will end. The owner then must complete the demolition in 180 days.

The process to get a Historic District Overlay for the neighborhood may take some time and have little impact on the current demolition project.

The limits for creating a Historic District Overlay include:

The creation of such authority would require an action by the City Council, adopting revisions to the Unified Development Code. Even assuming the necessary support exists to grant expanded powers to the Historic Preservation Commission, the code amendment process is not one that can be undertaken in just 45 days. In this case, the City will not be taking any further action.

The 45-day review period was created (and recently extended from 30 days) to permit the Historic Preservation Commission time to research the property and contact the owners of those properties with historical significance, seeking an alternative outcome. In the past, the Commission has successfully facilitated the sale of the Niedermeyer Building to a preservation-minded investor, and orchestrated countless architectural salvage operations in an effort to save significant elements for reuse. The Commission's final option is to simply tour the properties and document them photographically for the historical record, but even that requires permission from the property owner.

Rusty Palmer

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