A second attempt for a historic survey of Southside homes narrowly passed Columbus City Council Tuesday, but it took Mayor Robert Smith’s tie-breaking vote to do it.
The survey is the first step toward getting a swath of Southside — from the Mississippi University for Women campus to First Street and from College Street to Seventh Avenue — designated as a Local Historic District, which would set up city ordinances regulating exterior designs of Southside homes.
To get the survey, the city will apply for a federal historic preservation grant, which it would have to match 50 percent up to $10,000. Estimates are the survey will include up to 400 structures at a cost of $32 each.
If the grant application is approved, the council will then vote on whether to accept the grant.
Council members shot down the survey request with a 4-2 vote in January, citing the grant match was not budgeted. But on Tuesday, Councilwoman Ethel Taylor Stewart of Ward 1, Pierre Beard of Ward 4 and Stephen Jones of Ward 5 — all of whom represent some residents in Southside — voted to proceed. Ward 2’s Joseph Mickens, Ward 3’s Charlie Box and Ward 6’s Bill Gavin opposed, precipitating the mayor to break the tie in favor.
Smith said the expensive homes also generate more tax revenue. Setting up guidelines will better preserve the neighborhood and prevent developments such as service stations, he said, and citizens will have input for the project to come to fruition.
“It’s for a worthwhile reason,” he said.
Most Southside residents support the designation, Beard told The Dispatch. The neighborhood has gathered 145 signatures from Southside residents in favor of the historic survey grant application, and he supports the will of the majority.
“(People) want their homes to be preserved,” Beard told The Dispatch. “I’m all for that if we’ve got majority support.”
Moreover, Beard said, the concern for the grant match was unwarranted since the city likely wouldn’t be required to pay it until after Fiscal Year 2021 begins, giving the council the opportunity to include it in next year’s budget.
Julie Parker, Southside resident and coordinator of the Columbus Southside Neighborhood Watch, said the designation would help promote the city’s image and bring in tax revenue in the long run.
The design of the boundaries would be up to Southside residents, Parker said. The survey results would leave out homes that would not be required to follow the guidelines.
“The survey … will be able to comb out areas within the historic area that do not meet the criteria,” Parker said. “They would not be subject to that.”
Gavin, who had voted in favor of the survey in January, voted in opposition Tuesday.
He said some residents he talked to were not in favor of the historic survey, and some homes may not be able to afford the cost of renovating their houses to comply with the guidelines required by the designation.
“Some of these people can’t spend that money to fix some houses up to that degree these guidelines may require them to do,” Gavin said. “It (puts) a financial burden on them.”
Gavin said he is also concerned that the city would have to commit up to $10,000 of taxpayer money to pay for something that would largely benefit “expensive homes” on the Southside.
“Are we not spending taxpayer dollars to actually fund those special projects on those homes?” he asked.
If ultimately approved, Southside would become the second Local Historic District in the city. Downtown was designated in 1996.
Conflict disclosure: Managing Editor Zack Plair took part in editing this article. He is currently involved in legal proceedings with the city of Columbus.
Yue Stella Yu was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.