In an effort to preserve the county’s historical heritage, the Newton County Board of Commissioners passed a Historic Preservation Ordinance which calls for the formation of a new commission.
The ordinance approved by the BOC last Tuesday states "the historical, cultural and aesthetic heritage of Newton County is among its most valued and important assets" and "the preservation of this heritage is essential to the promotion of the health, prosperity and general welfare of [county] citizens."
The six-member Historic Preservation Commission will be appointed by the county chair who can receive recommendations for commission members from the board.
Scott Sirotkin, senior planner with the Newton County Planning and Development Department, said he did not know if County Chairman Aaron Varner would appoint members of the commission before his term ends at the end of the year or if he would pass that job on to Chair-elect Kathy Morgan and the new members of the BOC when they take office in 2009.
Members of the Historic Preservation Commission will not be paid. They must reside in Newton County but do not necessarily have to live in the unincorporated areas of the county. According to the ordinance, "a majority of members [of the Historic Preservation Commission] shall be persons who have demonstrated special interest, experience or education in history or architecture."
Initial appointments to the commission shall be staggered with two members serving one-year terms; two members serving two-year terms; and two members serving three-year terms. After the initial appointments, all members shall serve three-year terms with no member serving more than two consecutive terms.
Residents who are interested in serving on the commission should contact Debbie Bell, the county arborist, or their respective county commissioners.
The work of the county’s Historic Preservation Commission is not intended to serve as a layer over the historic preservation work already done by the city of Covington’s Historic Preservation Committee but rather to replicate the committee’s work in unincorporated Newton County.
Sirotkin said the BOC decided to put in place the Historic Preservation Ordinance as a result of resident feedback.
"As we did our community meetings in conjunction with the Comprehensive Plan over the last couple of years, that was something that citizens mentioned quite often, that they wanted to see our historic landmarks preserved," Sirotkin said. "It was put into the short-term work program of the [Comprehensive Plan] that was adopted earlier this year."
The commission will be charged with preparing and maintaining an inventory of all structures, property, objects, travel routes or sites in unincorporated Newton County that have the potential to be designated as historic property or are of historic or cultural importance.
The commission will send their recommendations for those historic sites that they believe should be designated by the ordinance as historic properties or historic districts to the BOC for final adoption. The commission will also advise the BOC of threats to areas of historic or cultural significance.
Sirotkin said if a district is to be designated historic under the ordinance, then "anything that constituted a material change in appearance would have to be reviewed by the commission" and a Certificate of Appropriateness issued before any construction work could take place.
Material changes can include the demolition or relocation of a historic property, the commencement of excavation and the alteration or removal of any building or structure in a historic district including walls, fences, steps and pavements.
In order to be considered for a historic district or historic site, a request by the owners of at least 51 percent of the land acreage in question and a request by at least 51 percent of the owners in number within a proposed historic district must be received.