City considers historic district effort that's "misaligned" with intended purpose

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Community members inside the proposed School Street Local Historic District want to recognize the area's role in history and possibly avoid a federal regulation.

Most of the area, which includes homes on School, East McCarty and Lafayette streets, sits on a federal flood plain. These homeowners in the proposed district are significantly limited on renovating their homes because of a federal rule on flood plains called the Substantial Improvement regulation. 

The rule, enforced by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, says homeowners cannot receive building permits for renovation projects that exceed 50 percent of the home's assessed value. 

Jenny Smith, who owns multiple properties in the area, is the lead petitioner of the application and said the city council's approval would save the homes. She said earning the title of historic district would open a window of opportunity for people in the area.

“By making it a historic district, the homeowners in this area can apply for waivers to improve their properties to the fullest extent,” Smith said.

The city has spent more than a month trying to figure out if that exception actually exists.

"Repeated attempts to obtain clarity on this topic from state and federal regulators have not provided a clear understanding or definitive answer," a June staff report to the Planning and Zoning Commission said.

The application comes with mixed reviews from city staff and commissions. 

One review of the application by city staff found it "may not be a strong enough link to warrant historic designation."

One local church, which sits immediately outside the proposed boundary, claims that its absence from the application de-legitimizes the effort.

The city's Historic Preservation Commission voiced concern on the intent of the application but voted in favor of its passage with a 4-2 vote.

The Planning and Zoning Commission gave a neutral recommendation with a 5-3 vote.

The application, which has satisfied the requirement of collecting signatures of 75 percent of affected homeowners, is "misaligned with the purpose of the local historic district tool," according to a city staff report.

The application might be taken up by the council or could remain on the informal calendar as late as early September.

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