Naked City

Historic Homes for Sale?

Heritage Neighborhood residents aren't pinning their hopes on winning a battle before the City Council to prevent four aging cottages from going the way of the wrecking ball. So they've established a back-pocket plan to try and buy one or more of the Washington Square properties from owner/developer Larry Paul Manley, who wants to replace the homes with a small apartment complex. But Manley's consultant, Sarah Crocker, says her client has given no indication that he wants to sell the homes, which the Historic Landmark Commission has deemed worthy of historic designation and protection. The commission voted in August to initiate a historic zoning case and to deny a permit to demolish the properties, built by L. Theo Bellmont -- UT's first athletic director -- in the late Thirties and early Forties.

The HLC ruling, which drew immediate fire from developers, City Council members, and the Statesman alike, was one of several H-zoning controversies that's led the City Council to appoint a task force to review the current policies and politics concerning historic designation -- which both gives owners major tax breaks and can stop redevelopment dead in its tracks. Neighborhood advocates already fear the task force's real mandate is to abolish the city's historic preservation program entirely. But as Crocker sees it, the city's soul-searching mission is long overdue. "The Historic Landmark Commission is not a land-use commission," she said. "Historic designation plaques should tell a story; they shouldn't be granted just because a hundred of us want historic zoning."

The Planning Commission takes up the Bellmont case Oct. 8. Regardless of its vote, the City Council will have the final say, possibly on Oct. 24. Heritage resident Lindsey Crow says the current climate doesn't lend itself to a favorable vote. "At this point," she said, "I feel that the only hope for the cottages is if the Manleys can be persuaded to sell [them] to the neighbors." Heritage residents planned to meet this week with other neighborhood groups in older center-city environs to mull over whether and how to fight historic preservation battles as a unified coalition.

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historic zoning, historic preservation, Larry Paul Manley, Washington Square, Heritage Neighborhood, L. Theo Bellmont, Sarah Crocker

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