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Residents question historic boundary lines in Thomson

The yet-to-be-determined City of Thomson Historic District Boundaries already have some local citizens sitting on both sides of the issue and wishing they were on the opposite side. The district map was drawn up by Thomson's Historic Preservation Commission and presented in June at a public hearing in the Depot.

If approved by the City Council, property owners within the district will have to apply for a Certificate of Appropriateness before making any major exterior changes to their property.

One local citizen is passing around petitions for homeowners who do not want to be included within the district, while others are making phone calls to the City Administrator and their Council representative to express dismay at having been left out.

"I think the real issue gets to be how the people are perceiving the inclusion in the district, whether they are perceiving it as a positive part that will play a role in their future, or a negative," said Bob Flanders, the former city administrator. "In other communities, it has always been a positive... Some people see a glass as half-full while others see it as half-empty. So we all bring different kinds of feelings to the table."

Sitting inside the boundaries and trying to get out is Cyndie Locklear, a resident on Grier Circle. Ms. Locklear said she "doesn't have a problem being in a historic town," but neither does she want to be told how to manage her own property. Ms. Locklear said her house was built in the 40s, but if it is ever destroyed, she does "not want to be locked into the 40s structure."

"I want to rebuild it like I want it," Ms. Locklear said. "...I don't want to have to go through a governmental committee to tell me what I can and cannot do to my home."

Ms. Locklear said she asked her neighbors' opinions and found that many agree with her. She has been going door-to-door collecting signatures on a petition to turn into the city council.

"I think that voicing your opinion by putting it on paper creates a stronger impression," she said.

Ms. Locklear is the full-time caregiver of her mother, so she said the time devoted to her endeavor "is sporadic." After canvassing her own street, Ms. Locklear said she is working her way into other surrounding neighborhoods to encourage like-minded citizens to make their opinions known.

And that is just the type of approach that officials are looking for. City Councilman Jaye Jones said he is new to the council and is still trying to "get up to speed" on the details of the historic district. Mr. Jones said he wants to know people's opinions so he can "help the folks in my district while trying to mesh that with the intended goals of the preservation committee."

Sitting outside looking in is Donna Branch on North Avenue. Ms. Branch, who is a news reporter for WTHO radio, said she has lived in other places, such as Atlanta and Augusta, where the historic district has "worked great." Ms. Branch said she feels her neighborhood is the same as the Hickory Hills area, so she doesn't understand why it was left out of the district.

"They need to make it an equal opportunity. I totally feel like they are showing favoritism. ... I feel it gives that neighborhood an advantage that other neighborhoods of the same age could have," Ms. Branch said. "For some of those houses over here around Thomson Elementary, it would be beneficial to keep the integrity of the neighborhood in place. In (the Hickory Hills) neighborhood, the property value is going to go up and they are going to take care of it and keep it up, and ours is going to look (bad). That's just what happens."

Mr. Flanders said the City Council is supposed to vote on the historic district map at their Aug. 9 meeting. He said the council may choose to put the vote off until September if there is a lot of input from the community.

"It is not a done deal," he said. "We are certainly open to change and debate. That was the purpose of the public hearing. We are trying to give people an opportunity to think about it."

What it means

The historic district concept is confusing to some people. Betty Stanley lives on Pineview Drive, which is outside the district lines, but she is building a house in Hickory Hills inside the lines. Ms. Stanley said she doesn't understand how she can put a new house in a historical setting.

"I am interested in it, but I don't quite understand the concept," she said.

Anne Floyd, the Regional Development Center Representative for the Central Savannah River Area, said establishing a historic district does not mean all the buildings in it are historic. It's goal is to maintain the overall character of the area and to ensure change and growth occur in a beneficial way.

"There is a lot of misinformation that (we need) to clarify," she said. "Rather than historic district, I like to call it a locally designated district."

Ms. Floyd said that while a man's home is his castle, zoning regulations limit the use of the property for the benefit of public health, safety and welfare. According to the Georgia historic preservation website, property owners are entitled to a reasonable economic return, but their property use must not infringe on the rights of others. Value is added to private property through governmental projects such as roads and sewerage. Most importantly, historic district designation consistently increases property values and keeps a city thriving.

One example is Madison, Ga., which has had historic designation since 1987. According to Monica Callahan, the chair of the Georgia Alliance of Preservation Commissions, Madison has not had empty stores downtown, the downtown has never been abandoned, and there are no rotting or neglected houses.

"By far, the effects are positive," she said. "Everything is well-cared for. People can invest with confidence in our historic district because they know that the property owner next to them is subject to the same stipulations."

In her 10 years in Madison, Ms. Callahan said she has seen only four denials for Certificates of Appropriateness out of the 100 applications they receive each year.

"It's not something that is going to really limit them," Ms. Floyd said. "It's going to improve the neighborhood and the city."

Ms. Floyd said Thomson has already adopted the historic district designation. They are working on the second step, which is establishing the boundaries. The map includes the Hickory Hills subdivision, the area around Westview Cemetery, extends along Hill Street to the IGA shopping center, down Wrens Highway to the Presbyterian Church, out East Hill Street to Sonic and out Cobbham Road to Beggs Funeral Home.

The commission, which was formed in May of 2006, consists of Rusty Lovelace, Leigh Anne Cowart, Stephanie Ivery and Tommy Goodyear.

"It took months to arrive at those boundaries because we've got a big, big area to cover," Mr. Lovelace said, adding that he doesn't remember the details of how the lines were established. Mrs. Cowart, who has the minutes from the meetings, is out of town and unavailable for comment.

A full map of the proposed district is available on the county's website at

Web posted on Thursday, July 26, 2007

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