A small crowd of downtown business and property owners and interested community members filled The Bank of LaFayette community room, armed with questions about what it would mean if LaFayette declared its downtown a historic business district and, furthermore, how exactly the design guidelines proposed for the potential historic district would work.
First purported by the Historic Preservation Commission in late 2011, the commission’s hopes for a historic dis-trict in LaFayette are two-fold: first, that the public will decide it wants downtown LaFayette to be named an offi-cial local historic business district; and second, that the business and property owners of the buildings declared to be part of the district will agree to adopt and abide by the thick booklet of design guidelines laid out to help pre-serve the integral feel of a historic downtown.
Should the public decide to move forward with the proposal, it would be up to the LaFayette city council to de-cide whether to officially adopt a historic preservation ordinance, and later, if necessary, to adopt the design guide-lines as well.
Many in the crowd of approximately two dozen assembled citizens were skeptical about the proposal and ques-tioned whether either or both phases would enforce specific changes or restrictions to their existing buildings.
Catherine Edgemon, Main Street director and administrator of the Historic Preservation Commission, was quick to assure the crowd that establishing a historic business district would create no undue burden on business and property owners, and could in fact be a benefit in many ways.
Businessman Mike Lovelady, who recently opened the new restaurant One-Eleven on the LaFayette square, elaborated on this fact by telling the approximately two dozen assembled citizens how the extensive renovations on the building at 111 E. Main St. would have cost him some $15,000 less had the property been part of an official local historic business district.
Being labeled as historic, he explained, allows owners to be exempt from certain modern codes and restrictions to which buildings must normally adhere. In terms of renovations and repairs, not having to alter key features to modern standards can save a business owner a great deal of time and money.
Nonetheless, the general consensus at the end of the early evening meeting was that while becoming part of a historic business district didn’t sound like a bad idea, most people weren’t too keen on the idea of adopting design guidelines.
The guidelines themselves would detail to owners how to maintain a historic look on the exterior of their build-ing – it would not stipulate necessary changes, but offer suggestions to owners to help them keep an appropriate style if and when changes, repairs or renovations occurred.
Though it sounds nice in theory, many at Monday night’s meeting felt that the guidelines would be too restrictive or controlling. A common resounding theme among the assembled crowd specified a desire to stay free from too many governmental-style mandates.
“I don’t want the government telling me what I can and can’t do,” said one citizen. The rest of the room voiced their consensus.
Other concerns included the need to gain approval from the Historic Preservation Commission for simple dam-age repairs and remodeling issues, as well as concern whether potential feuds between business owners and com-mission administrators could lead to biased judgment and problems in the future.
“I really don’t foresee that happening,” said Edgemon. “Historic preservation people are not like that. We’re kind of a rare breed.”
Edgemon hopes to keep the proposal circulating in the minds of local citizens for the next few months, at which time she expects the LaFayette city council to more closely examine adoption of a historic district ordinance.
For more information on the proposed local historic business district or the design guidelines, visit cityoflafayettega.org/HistoricDowntownBusinessDistrict.html or contact Catherine Edgemon at 706-639-1519.