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Chapman addresses historic preservation controversy
Arlene Chapman

PORTERDALE, Ga. - Porterdale Mayor Arline Chapman sat down with The Covington News on Friday to address the continuing controversy surrounding the city’s Historic Preservation Committee.

Chapman’s comments come amid the fallout from a city council vote Monday to put a 90-day moratorium on the committee.

The moratorium, proposed by council member Terry Gray and approved unanimously, temporarily suspends the activities of the HPC.

“During this time, the city council will function and serve as the historical preservation committee,” Gray said. “During this 90-day period, the city council will review design standards to determine what is a mandated, or a recommended renovation. I believe clarification is needed at this time.”

Immediately following the council vote, members heard an appeal from a homeowner who wanted to remove a decaying chimney from his house on Walnut Street. The request to remove the chimney had reportedly been heard and denied by the HPC. The council voted to reverse that decision and allow the chimney to be removed.

Addressing comments and concerns of committee members made by members of the HPC and others at the meeting and in an email to The News, including one that Chapman compared the initiatives of the preservation committee to the “efforts of Nazis,” the mayor said the committee has a role to play in Porterdale’s future.

“First, let me say that I am a great supporter of historic preservation,” Chapman said. “This city has not a whole lot of tools that we have to market ourselves, and historic preservation is one of them. I fully support historic preservation.

“We have people that have worked hard to put the things together. We’ve got wonderful documents. There have been a couple of times when I have said, ‘Can you make it easier, can you make it more user-friendly?’ And they have done it.”

Chapman said this kind of problem is not unique to Porterdale.

“I was talking to somebody the other day and it seems like in every city, there’s this sort of kerfuffle goes on with historic preservation and trying to keep people happy and how it’s dealt with. And Porterdale is no different,” she said.

“My feeling was there have got to be ways to make it easier for the average person that’s either coming in here to buy a home, or lives here already and wants to fix up their home, make it as user friendly as possible. Fortunately, we have some highly educated people creating these documents and I’ve said can you make it easier, make it a little bit more direct, make it a little bit more clear. And to a great extent they have done that.”

The mayor said there is a perception that the committee “has formed a quasi-government of their own and they are calling the shots as to what is mandated and what is recommended.”

The mayor said some of the controversy started when she went to committee meeting to talk about what should be mandated and what they need to consider as suggested. Chapman said she has talked with other people about the issue.

“I’ve had other people talk to me about the same thing,” she said. “I’m not the only individual that feels this way.

“The council has the ability to completely dissolve a committee. Don’t want to do that. I mean, you’ve got good people, dedicated to historic preservation that you just want to tie up some of these loose ends and make it easier for people.

“So the thought was, if we use a moratorium, just long enough for us to work out, within the council that has the power to do it, what the understanding of a mandate is and what is the understanding of recommended. And then, tie up the loose ends and give the whole thing back to them and have the committee reactivated. That was the complete intent of this whole thing.”

Regarding the council’s reversal of the committee’s ruling on the chimney on Walnut Street, Chapman said the city’s historic preservation ordinance makes no mention of chimneys.

“I went through the ordinance and I found nothing that mentions chimneys in any of these documents,” she said. “I thought to myself, and others agreed, you can’t mandate this chimney thing.

“The historic preservation committee governs the façade of the house. The rules and regulations are just for the façade, so that the front of your house, if a historic tour is coming through, the front of the house looks like it did back then.”

As for the Nazi comment, Chapman said she doesn’t recall making it.

“I am one-fourth Jewish. I had a Jewish grandfather,” she said. “I don’t like that word. It has a horrible sound.  I might have used the word Gestapo. Of course, they aren’t a Gestapo, but any group, in my perception, that is hammering things, I think always sort of think of them as sort of like the Gestapo. But there’s nobody on there in jackboots or carrying a whip.

“It might have been a poor choice of words that night.”