Group seeks to preserve city's historic district

The McDonough Historic Preservation Commission hopes to officially designate two sections of the city for preservation.

The areas targeted are major portions of Lawrenceville Street, along sections of Keys Ferry Street, Jonesboro Street, Griffin Street, Macon Street, College Street, and Bryan Street. That area would encompass the McDonough historic district.

A public hearing on the proposal will be held June 7, during the McDonough City Council meeting, which will begin at 7 p.m., at City Hall. "We're asking the city council to approve an ordinance for designation of the historical district, McDonough and Lawrenceville Street," said Robbie Robinson, chairman of the McDonough Historical Preservation Commission. "These two would be the first designated districts for the city."

McDonough Mayor Billy Copeland said attending the public hearing is an important step for residents. "All matters related to property must be handled with respect for all those involved," said Copeland. "I applaud the Historic Preservation Commission for the steps that they have taken to ensure communication with citizens who would be affected by the proposed ordinance.

I, too, certainly hope that all of those property owners and citizens," he said, "will have the opportunity to attend the June 7 council meeting and public hearing, to share their thoughts with the council."

Should the ordinance be approved, property owners in the historic district, who want to modify their property, would be required to obtain a permit from McDonough's Planning and Development Department, before they could proceed. City officials said the requirement is not much different from what is now in place. However, the Historic Preservation Commission will be added to the approval process, Robinson said.

"The only difference is ... you will have to go through the Historic Preservation Commission," said Robinson. "We either confirm, or deny, the permit."

Similar to a recent measure in Hampton, property owners would need a certificate of appropriateness, he said. Robinson acknowledged the controversy over the matter in Hampton, and said McDonough residents will seek more information on the proposed ordinance. "On June 2, the McDonough Historic Preservation Commission is going to hold an informational meeting for property owners and occupants in the historic district, to answer any questions, before the city's public hearing," he said.

Leigh Burns, an historic preservation expert with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, will moderate the meeting and answer questions, according to Robinson.

The proposed ordinance is needed to fill in the gaps left by an existing city ordinance, he said. "There's a designated district," he said. "All we're asking is that the city recognize those boundaries that the state of Georgia Department of Natural History, and the United States National Park Service, designates. "We have an ordinance on hand that describes how to protect historic properties," he continued. "This one will designate those properties."

Robinson said not all of the properties on Lawrenceville Street, and in the McDonough district, are designated as historic buildings. To qualify, structures must be original, and at least 50 years old. "Some are conforming, and some are not," he said. "Some are declared by the state to be historic, some are not."

"Conforming" properties are those listed on the National register, explained Robinson.

Inclusion in the historic district improves property value, and makes the property eligible for financial assistance, he said. "You can, in fact, get grants from the federal government," he said. "Businesses can get tax credits to restore property, as was done at the corner of Griffin and Hampton streets."