By Stephanie Johns
Members of the Madison Historic Preservation Committee (HPC) offered negative comments regarding a plan the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) has to remove and relocate an historically African American home from the city’s historic district.
As HPC Staff Ken Kocher explained, the DDA is required to seek comment from the HPC but is not required, either by state law or local ordinance, to get the HPC’s approval.
He said the structure, identified as an American small house built between 1941 and 1951, “is a contributing resource to the historic district” and he therefore recommended the HPC comment negatively.
DDA Executive Director Monica Callahan said that the DDA plans to move the house at 787 College Drive to a lot on Pearl Street in the Canaan neighborhood.
Also, she said that the Canaan area was deleted from the historic district at the request of the African-American community.
Regarding the DDA’s plans for the house, Callahan said the DDA thought about tearing it down as the cost to repair the structure outweighed the DDA’s ability to earn a return over three years.
“The DDA did not purchase the property to renovate it,” she said.
The DDA was then approached by Leon Peters, who said that I.V. Henry, a local businessman, has offered a lot he owns: the house could be moved there and repairs could be made to bring it up to code.
Once the house has been removed, Callahan said tentative plans call for the College Drive lot to sit empty for two to three years before the DDA splits it and sells it as two single-family lots.
Madison City Councilman Fred Perriman spoke in favor of the DDA’s plan.
“We realize this house is very significant in the historic district,” he said, adding that Civil Rights meetings were held there. “I would love to see this home moved over to the Canaan area, to have this home moved and have an African-American live in it …”
One member of the public, Tim Reilly, suggested the DDA and Henry swap properties, in this way allowing the house to remain in the historic district and also be brought up to code by Henry and Peters.
Henry said, “I’d rather see it on Pearl Street over by the school.”
HPC members shared their thoughts about the idea:
Stratton Hicky said he was concerned about losing the historic asset.
Flynn Clyburn said he, too, was concerned about chipping away at the district.
Steve Schaefer said he was “awfully moved” about putting the structure in the Canaan area but opposed the idea on the grounds that it’s a loss to the neighborhood where it’s currently located.
Chris McCauley said moving the house is contrary to the HPC’s guidelines and also a loss of a contributing resource.
Richard Simpson said its loss would weaken the perimeter of the historic district: “I thought we turned a corner with Mapp Funeral Home and want to retain that.”
Callahan said the negative comments were expected. She shared that the next step for the DDA involves removal of hazardous materials. She noted that asbestos has been found in the roof shingles and interior walls. It will cost about $8,900 to have the asbestos removed.
In a later email she shared, “the HPC diligently commented following their single charge of historic preservation. Urban redevelopment balances several community policies, including historic preservation, improvement of the tax base, removal of slum and blight, addition of affordable housing. In the Urban Redevelopment Plan, historic preservation policy was given heavy weight for properties located in the National Register of Historic District. In areas outside the National Register district, such as the property discussed, other policies were given due consideration.”