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Property owners on historic district: ‘Don’t do it’

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City council scheduled to vote May 13 on district

By Meaghan Downs

Property owners raised their hands high during last Tuesday’s public hearing to say one thing to the city council about a proposed historic district in Lawrenceburg.
Don’t do it.  
“People that live there don’t want it,” city councilman Thomas Vaughn, who attended the hearing along with four of his fellow councilmen, said in a follow-up interview. “They live there, they don’t want it.”
When the city council created the historic district commission in 2006, Vaughn said he thought establishing an historic district in Lawrenceburg may be a good idea.
“You don’t know the answer to a question until you ask it,” Vaughn said. “I think the residents [at Tuesday’s public hearing] gave us a pretty good answer.”
More than 60 Lawrenceburg citizens attended the hour-long public hearing held at the Anderson Senior Citizens Center last Tuesday night, several taking turns at the podium to protest the potential creation of an historic district in Lawrenceburg.
Karen Richardson, a South Main Street resident, said she was tired of living in a “regulation nation,” and would definitely choose to “opt out,” if an opt out category was provided.
The Planning and Zoning Commission recommended the establishment of the historic district to the city council in February, but also recommended the council create an “opt out” provision for property owners who do not want to be a part of the historic district.
The city council, when it votes May 13, could choose to approve Planning and Zoning’s recommendation with opt out category, revise the recommendation completely or vote no on creating a district at all.
Deanna Crabb, fellow property owner on South Main Street, said properties within the proposed historic district shouldn’t be anyone’s responsibility except the person who pays for the property.
“I think majority needs to be heard and majority needs to rule,” Crabb said.
Fiscal Court Magistrate Dave Ruggles, who serves the 1st District, said he was “fundamentally opposed” to the creation of the historic district, being more in favor with something like the non-profit Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation organization in Lexington.
“I think they’re way off base,” Ruggles said of the historic district commission.
“No one loves the history of this county more than the people who grew up to see it,” property owner Hannah Ellett, who bought her Main Street home in September, said during the hearing. “It’s going to be the people caring that’s going to make a difference, not some ordinance.”
A few attendees stepped up to the microphone to speak in favor of the creation of a historic district, citing the necessity to preserve the historical value of Lawrenceburg and the potential economic benefits of having an active Main Street.
“We’ve lost so much of Lawrenceburg, of Anderson County,” Bill Bryant, president of the Anderson County Historical Society, said during the hearing. “We [the historic district commission] want to try to save and preserve it.”
“I think it’s still worth saving,” resident Tom Ripy said, adding he was enthusiastic about the economic benefits that preservation and restoration could bring to Lawrenceburg if it belonged to something like a Main Street program. “I still believe Lawrenceburg is worth saving.”
City councilmen George Geoghegan, Ken Evans, Larry Giles, Tommy Vaughn and Bobby Durr attended the public hearing. Councilman Sandy Goodlett was absent. City clerk Robbie Hume, filling in for an absent Mayor Edwinna Baker, moderated the proceedings.
The Anderson News contacted councilman Bobby Durr, but was unable to reach him for comment by press time.  
Councilman Ken Evans said he thought an opt out provision would be too confusing, especially if a property within the historic district were to transfer to new homeowners in the future.
Councilman Thomas Vaughn agreed, saying he would most likely vote against the creation of an historic district as well as against the opt out provision.
“There’s too many people there that are not in favor … there’s too many property owners that are not in favor of it,” Evans said of the historic district. “If they don’t want it, I don’t think we need to cram it down their throat. I think we need to look at something that would please everyone.”
George Geohegan, who resigned as the chairman of the historic district commission when elected as city councilman this past fall, said he believes various objectors to the historic district could be satisfied if the commission could sit down with each of them about concerns on guidelines.
If the district were created, guidelines would be established through a series of public hearings before the commission, planning and zoning board, and the city council, Geoghegan said, allowing for input from concerned citizens.  
“That’s what the ordinance anticipates,” Geoghegan said. “Everybody’s getting upset before any standards are set.”
Geoghegan declined to say how he would vote at next Monday’s council meeting.
Councilman Larry Giles also would not say how he’d vote on the historic district recommendation.
If somebody comes forward at next Monday’s meeting with an option that’d be valid and suit those property owners who are disgruntled, “I could go for that,” Giles said.
“I wasn’t amazed, but it was a surprise that the majority … were not enthused about the prospect of it,” Giles said of the public hearing.
“But I think probably the reasoning is, they like me, just don’t know the whole story. And I don’t know the whole story. Now I’m not adverse to the historic district, but I think probably we’re 30 years late.”

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City council to vote on historic district  
What: The city council is scheduled to vote on the potential creation of the historic district.
When: May 13
Time: 7 p.m.
Where: City council chambers, 100 North Main St., Lawrenceburg
The meeting is open to the public.