Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Preservationist responds to my frustrations with Metro Action Commission's opposition to protecting Fehr School

David Price with Historic Nashville, Inc. comments on a previous post:

Hi Mike, thanks for your attention to the Fehr School. As a board member of Historic Nashville (and chair of our Nashville 9 committee), I can tell you our organization fully supports the landmarking of the school and your efforts to draw attention to it. I spoke with Tim Walker of the Metro Historical Commission and wanted to share some information that I hope you will find reassuring.

Cynthia Croom may be opposed to the proposed landmark ordinance so she can be free to make changes to the building, but the MAC is almost entirely Federally funded. That means that if it were to use Federal money for renovations or additions it would be subject to a review process under Section 106 of the NHPA (http://www.achp.gov/106summary.html). This process aims to find ways for Federal undertakings to avoid adverse effects on historic properties. In plain words, it would not allow the MAC to just go and make any changes it wants to whenever it wants to. Read more at the link above.

On top of this, if I am not mistaken the MAC is planning to relocate at some point in the near future. When that happens, the councilperson and the MHC will likely be able to landmark the property without opposition.

Lastly, it is also my understanding that the surrounding neighborhood is pursuing a conservation zoning overlay, which would include the school building (and regulate exterior changes) despite the MAC's opposition.

HNI is happy that Salemtown and the Fehr school have you watching out for their best interests, and hope that this info helps.

The most most hopeful news is that there is a federal review process in place to protect historic properties like Fehr School. However, what is unclear: what triggers it. Not many people remember the background of Fehr and it has no plaque or nationally recognized designation. I intend to follow up at the federal level and see if the federal government would allow changes without red flags going off.

On a second note, MAC has already relocated. North Nashville Head Start is the sole occupant of Fehr School, and as far as I know there are no announced plans to relocate it. So, to the best of my understanding, MAC will be in control of the building indefinitely.

Finally, I do not believe that conservation zoning necessarily applies to entire neighborhoods, given the somewhat complex consent process. I attended an informational meeting on conservation zoning Monday night in Salemtown. I directly asked the Metro planner speaking at the meeting, yes or no: can a Metro agency occupying a historic building automatically opt out of conservation zoning for their building even if the neighborhood supports it? She really did not answer my question, but said that Metro agencies generally are agreeable to conservation initiatives. In fact, she had already told us that blocks and streets could be cut out of conservation rezoning to facilitate passage of the rezoning legislation. It seems to me that if a Metro agency caused enough of a ruckus it could leverage an opt-out, especially Metro Action, which has intervened to stop Salemtown improvement projects having little to do with the Fehr building in the past. I think it is noteworthy that the planner did not come right out and say, "No. They cannot opt out".

MAC Director Cynthia Croom has expressed opposition to conserving the Fehr building. She has stopped other local improvement projects dead in their tracks without warning. She would not even compromise on Fehr preservation with the district council member. So, why would she not avail herself of future opportunities to exclude Fehr from conservation zoning?

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