Court Square Business Owners Weigh in on Historic Guidelines

Court Square Business Owners Weigh in on Historic Guidelines

Court Square Business Owners Weigh in on Historic Guidelines

BROWNSVILLE, Tenn. – The Brownsville Historic Zoning Commission (HZC) held a special public meeting to discuss plans for the city’s new construction guidelines on court square. The proposed guidelines regulate what property owners can and cannot do to structures within the city’s court square area, and Thursday’s meeting was packed with curious business owners with questions for the commission.

Dozens of citizens vetted concerns over everything from paint colors to window tint and storm damage repair. For the most part, those questions were answered by the commission. “This is not a retroactive set of guidelines,” said HZC chair Joe Barden. “In other words, if this were to pass, nobody in the city government could say ‘you have to bring your building up to this code.’ What these are in place for are if you decide to renovate your building.”

Barden says the goal of the HZC is to give court square the same look it had in the early 20th century. That means, according to Barden, the zoning guidelines apply mostly to the appearance of buildings.

(Click here to view the guidelines)

In the event of a catastrophe – a tornado knocking down a building for instance – Barden says the HZC understands that a replacement structure might not be built with the same materials. A modern structure, he noted, would be built of concrete and steel rather than layers of brickwork; however, that modern structure should have the exterior appearance of the one it replaced.

The proposed guidelines were based on months of research in other historic communities in Tennessee; commissioners say the Middle Tennessee city of Franklin was of particular interest in their study.

According to the HZC, repairs of existing building elements do not require review. That covers more common problems like broken windows; however, the process for new construction or renovation of a building on the square is this:
1) The building owner must submit an application for the work to the HZC. (Click here to view the application)
2) The HZC will review the plans, which typically include renderings. If approved, the owner may begin construction.
3) Once the construction is complete, the HZC will issue a certificate of appropriateness to the historic zoning guidelines.

Brownsville’s Historic Zoning Commission has the legal power to pull a building permit if they find the work to fall out of compliance of their guidelines. They also have the power to fine a property owner up to $50 per day that a building is found outside of compliance. However, Barden emphasized to the crowd that the HZC intends to work with business owners to help them.downtown-brownsville-1

“The goal is to really try to partner with you rather than be some police organization,” said Barden. “If we sit up here and pass guidelines that thwart businesses from coming here, we’ve really done ourselves a disservice.”

Brownsville Mayor Bill Rawls added that both his administration and the HZC want to work with business owners. “We definitely want to be hands on. We want to communicate with you. We know in a small town and a small market you have to be efficient in what you do.”

Business owners appeared pleased by what they heard, noting that the meeting was a good first step toward avoiding rumors and misunderstandings about exactly what was going on at City Hall.

The next step for the city’s new historic zoning guidelines are a revision based upon the comments received during the public meeting on Thursday. Afterwards, the HZC plans to present the guidelines to the city board for review.

There, it would undergo two hearings before being passed as a city ordinance.

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