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Resident objections axe bid to put historic neighborhood on National Register

David Floyd • Updated Sep 13, 2019 at 6:03 PM

A local historic neighborhood will not be considered for nomination to the National Register of Historic places because a majority of residents raised objections.

Rebecca Schmitt, the national register coordinator with the Tennessee Historical Commission, said the agency has so far received 140 notarized letters objecting to the nomination of the Hillrise Park subdivision to the National Register of Historic Places, which represents a majority of residents in the district.

As a result, the district can no longer be considered by the State Review Board as a listing on the National Register, an official list of historically significant buildings, districts and sites across the nation that are considered worthy of preservation.

Per federal regulations, Schmitt said the district will instead be considered as a “determination of eligibility,” which means the district meets criteria for placement on the register but won’t be listed because of owner objection. While inclusion on the National Register makes certain properties eligible for tax credits, a property would need to produce income in order to qualify.

The State Review Board will consider the neighborhood’s determination of eligibility at a meeting in Nashville on Sept. 18. If approved, it would have to go the National Parks Service for final consideration.

The east Johnson City neighborhood — also known as the Gump Addition in recognition of the original landowner and developer, Harry Gump — was initially platted in 1927. It’s the first landscaped residential subdivision in the Tri-Cities area, and represents a cross-section of architectural styles dating back to the 1920s.

During a meeting on Sept. 5, the Johnson City Commission decided to delay a decision on whether to endorse the nomination until they could receive more information about the implications of the recognition. Their decision was in response to concerns they heard about the impact the recognition would have on property owners.

Louis “Louie” Gump, Harry Gump’s grand nephew, said Friday that the decision to no longer consider the neighborhood for placement on the national register is disappointing.

“I know that there was some really intense objection, but I think a lot of the objection is based on either a misunderstanding or a lack of understanding,” he said.

The Tennessee Historical Commission said in a press release Friday that this is only the second time in 20 years that a proposed National Register district won’t be considered because of owner opposition.

“This very rarely occurs that we actually have a majority of owners object,” Schmitt said. “The designation is completely honorary, and it does not place any restrictions on property owners.”

In its press release, the Tennessee Historical Commission said the opposition to the designation appeared to center around the idea that placement on the register would be the first step toward a local historic designation, which the agency said is a local process independent of placement on the National Register.

“It is disappointing that this nomination will not go forward,” Tennessee Historical Commission Executive Director Patrick McIntyre said in the release. “Local historic designation is a separate process. We have many National Register-listed neighborhoods in Tennessee without protective zoning, and there are areas protected by historic zoning that are not National Register-listed.”

Schmitt said there has been precedent for neighborhoods that receive National Register designation to then receive historic zoning.

“There are instances where communities see that a National Register district is significant and decide to take that next step, but it’s very important to make sure it’s clear that National Register (designation) does not always go to that point,” Schmitt said. “The locals really have to make that decision for themselves.”

To reverse this decision, owners would have to send notarized statements to the state saying they no longer object to the listing.

“It would have to be enough that it’s no longer a majority of owners,” Schmitt said.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify that while inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places makes certain properties eligible to receive tax credits, the property would need to produce income in order to qualify.

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