Historic District Commission to clarify design guidelines

After six years, the El Dorado Historic District Commission has again formed a subcommittee to review and update its design guidelines, which help preserve the historic and architectural integrity of the city’s historic commercial district and to better guide development in the district.

The group last updated the guidelines during a two-year process that began in 2014 and ended in 2016 when the El Dorado City Council revised an ordinance that regulates the historic district. commercial.

The ordinance reflected some of the revisions, which included a redrawing of the district map.

The Commercial Historic District encompasses several downtown blocks that are roughly bordered by Cleveland, Oak, Jackson, and Locust streets.

The new map updated legal descriptions and boundary lines and included changes – such as the demolition of some buildings – that had occurred since the map was drawn in 2004.

Another recommendation the Historic District subcommittee made at the time was to clarify and clean up some of the language in the design guidelines to address issues that had cropped up before the EHDC for a decade.

“We need to identify weaknesses in specific guidelines that have, as we have seen, been exposed over the past six years,” Commissioner Linda Rathbun told a regular EHDC meeting on Thursday.

Rathbun, who served on the EHDC subcommittee to update the design guidelines in 2014-2016, suggested five specific areas the new subcommittee should focus on: the city traffic sign ordinance , new construction/infill construction, neglect demolition, streetscape/crosswalk art and murals.

“Another thing we probably need to clarify is acceptable paint and colors. People ask me all the time what paint is acceptable and we need to give them advice,” Rathbun said. “I think we need to avoid saying ‘what’s right’ and give them some guidelines.”

Commissioner Steve Biernacki asked if there is a particular time period for which paint colors and other design guidelines in the Commercial Historic District are appropriate.

“This is called ‘the period of significance,'” said Elizabeth Eggleston, executive director of the EHDC.

Rathbun added that the period of significance for the district is the 1920s to 1950s.

She also said she thinks the local design guidelines are “pretty thin” and she cited some resources from other communities that have more in-depth and specific design guidelines.

Referring to the effort to update the guidelines in 2014 – 2016, Rathbun said, “The goal was to clarify and elaborate more and really clean up and clarify the language.”

Another resource, Eggleston said, is the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions, which provides information on design guidelines in other states, a host of issues historic districts across the country have faced, and how they solved these problems.

Rathbun asked if the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program could provide guidance on the project, and Eggleston said the state should be able to help.

Eggleston also noted that Jim vonTungeln, a retired urban planner who serves as an urban planner for the Municipal League of Arkansas who wrote the original design guidelines for the city, could be another potential resource.

She told commissioners that the group must keep meticulous records of activities such as COA requests in order to write staff reports that are submitted to the state.

“We need to document why we do things and make sure that (a proposed project) meets the design guidelines and the United States Secretary of the Interior (Standards for the Treatment of Historical Properties),” Eggleston said.

COA applicants can appeal an EHDC decision by first asking the commission to address or reconsider an earlier decision, Eggleston said.

Within 30 days, if the plaintiff is still aggrieved, an appeal may be filed in Union County Circuit Court.

“That’s why we have to document things so carefully,” she explained, adding that no one had formally appealed an EHDC decision in the nearly 20-year history. of the group.

Rathbun said the design documentation and guidelines not only provide guidance and clarity to landowners, but also an understanding of the factors EHDC should consider when reviewing and voting on COAs.

“It’s not arbitrary,” Rathbun said.

She suggested that the subcommittee set a target of December 2023 to make their recommendations to update the design guidelines.

Abdul J. Gaspar