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MHDC ENews: February 2010                             Volume 2 Number 2
Well, 2010 is starting out with a bang! 
On January 26, the Mobile City Council heard the appeal on the proposed gas station at the corner of Broad and Elmira Street. The City Council voted unanimously to deny the appeal, upholding the ARB's decision.  This was a tremendous win for preservationists throughout Mobile.  The City Council, in their wisdom, took a stand to protect traditional neighborhoods from gross over-building.  In an eloquent exchange, Councilman Carroll showed the Council that if you literally change the direction of your view, you change not only what you see, but your perspective too.  Kudos to all who fought this battle - - although it is still not over yet.  
There is a new Bill that has been presented in the Alabama House of Representatives that will help with the turnover of abandoned and blighted properties. If adopted, this bill's effect on Mobile's preservation movement will be huge.  We need everyone's show of support for this.  A detailed article by Keri Coumanis outlines the Bill.  Please take a moment to read it and take action. 
This issue also includes information from the National Trust for Historic Preservation regarding President Obama's proposed budget and the ill effects it will have on national grant programs for preservation.  This should be of great interest to our preservation community.  We do hope you find this article informative and timely. 
And as always, we hope that you will share our ENews with your family and friends who enjoy and support historic preservation.  Please feel free to pass along this electronic publication and encourage everyone to subscribe.  It is our hope that this communication tool will help keep our community updated on preservation issues and special events.
Architectural Review Board's Decision Upheld by City Council
On Tuesday, January 26, the Mobile City Council heard the appeal of Marvin Hewatt Enterprises of the denial of the Architectural Review Board to issue a certificate of appropriateness for the property at 412 S. Broad Street, the location for a proposed gas station and convenience store. 
The proposed project would be located on seven lots that Marvin Hewatt Enterprises has systematically purchased over the past ten years.  By joining the lots together, Hewatt has assembled a parcel of land that is almost an acre-and-a-half in size.  The proposed project would feature a convenience store building that is the size of one Oakleigh lot, five gas pumps, featuring an overhead canopy and lighting, and concrete surfacing covering the remaining property, all facing a residential street, Elmia. 
The Architectural Review Board found that the project was an impairment to the historic integrity of the neighborhood, and denied the application based on its impact on the district highlighting the site plan and scale.  It was noted that the plan was not in accordance with the New Plan for Old Mobile, and that it would have an adverse impact on the Bring Back Broad initiative.
The appeal began with Hewatt attorney, Doug Anderson, a former member of the Mobile Planning Commission, arguing that the ARB acted 'beyond their limits' by denying their client approval based on what they believed was 'use,' and not appropriateness of design and material.  He continued by stating that 'use' was something that is a zoning issue, not an ARB issue.  He continued by saying that his client had a legal right to use their property to build the gas station, which is zoned B2.  Anderson continued by accusing the ARB of hiding behind the guidelines.  He argued that the ARB relied on the New Plan for Old Mobile and the Broad Street Initiative as excuses, and that they abused their authority.  Anderson stated that Marvin Hewatt Enterprises has been denied approval by the ARB three times in the last six months.
In rebuttal, John Lawler, the attorney for the ARB, restated the ARB's decision that the project was denied based on size and the negative impact the design would have on the neighboring property.  Lawler stated that the ARB did not abuse its power.  He gave three very important reasons that the application was denied: 1) the massive lot that Hewatt has assembled is not in character with the Oakleigh Garden Historic District; 2) the massive building would be facing residents property - houses where people live; and 3) if the construction were approved, there would be a future application to remove the median of Broad Street for access to the gas station.  Lawler assured the City Council that the ARB did not act on a whim, as accused by Anderson, but acted on the criteria of the guidelines.  He closed by saying this was not a zoning case, this was a case of a project simply being too big.
Jamie Betbeze, an Oakleigh Garden Historic District resident and MHDC Commissioner, spoke in support of the ARB.  He referenced a petition with over 100 signatures from Oakleigh and Church Street East Historic District residents that he presented to the City Council earlier asking for denial of the project and for the ARB's decision to be upheld.  He also noted that the Mobile Historic Development Commission adopted a resolution in support of the ARB's decision. 
Rob Gulledge, pastor of Government Street United Methodist Church, spoke as a resident of Old Dauphin Way Historic District and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Mobile Historic Preservation Society.  He noted that the Preservation Society also adopted a resolution in support of the ARB's decision.  Gulledge spoke of the necessity of projects fitting into the neighborhood as his Church has worked to do. 
Chip Herrington, President of the Oakleigh Garden District Society, told the Council that in a special-called meeting at All Saints Episcopal Church to discuss the proposed project with Hewatt Enterprises, 200 people attended, well over the usual 50 that normally attend their meetings.  He said that the meeting was called with one day's notice.  Herrington reported that he called for a vote in favor of the project and no one raised their hand.  He reported that he then called for a vote of opposition of the project and everyone raised their hand.  Herrington went on to discuss how Oakleigh residents support businesses in their neighborhood and cited many historic gas stations in the area that would be much better in design and scale for Oakleigh.  He closed by saying that this project was like putting a very large round peg in a small square hole.
In a surprise turn-of-events, a gentleman named Sean Reeves, who lives in the Cottage Hill area, spoke of the adverse effect that drainage related to the project would cause in downtown.  He also pointed out that the need for gas stations were already met in this area of town and that Oakleigh really didn't need another gas station.
After much discussion and many questions by the City Council members, Councilman William Carroll, in accordance with Council procedures, moved that the Council should grant the appeal to Marvin Hewatt Enterprises, overturning the decision of the Architectural Review Board.  By unanimous vote, the City Council voted no, denying the appeal.
The next step in the appeal process gives Marvin Hewatt Enterprises 15 days from the date of the City Council hearing to appeal to the Circuit Court.
The Mobile Historic Development Commission would like to thank the City Council for upholding the decision of the Architectural Review Board.  Their solidarity on this issue told all residents in historic neighborhoods, and preservationists throughout the city, that they respect our neighborhoods and stand behind the guidelines designed to protect historic Mobile.  We would like to commend each of them and thank them for their support.   
MHDC Welcomes Two New Commissioners

The Mobile Historic Development Commission would like to welcome two new Commissioners to our ranks. 

Lori Millsap, an interior designer, will represent the Colonial Dames of the Seventeenth Century on the Commission.  Jamie Brown, a long-time preservation advocate and downtown resident, will represent the Mobile Arts Council.  Jamie and her family live in the restored Creole Fire Station.
These ladies will serve a four year term on the MHDC.  Welcome!
President Obama's Budget Request Would Eliminate or Reduce Funding For Important Historic Preservation Programs 

by Emily Adams, Vice President for Public Policy, National Trust for Historic Preservation

February 1, Washington, D.C. - In a shock to the historic preservation community, President Obama's 2011 Budget Request - released this morning - slashed funding for several key components of the national preservation program. It proposes to completely eliminate funding for Save America's Treasures and Preserve America grant programs. Perhaps what is most alarming is a White House blog that singles out these two programs as examples of programs that "weren't working well"[1]. Proposed funding for National Heritage Areas is reduced as well.

We need your help to reinstate these cuts and make the case for the importance of these programs.

Details of program cuts in the proposed budget include:

* Zeroed-out funding of Save America's Treasures (SAT) program within the Historic Preservation Fund.

* Reduced the National Recreation and Preservation account by $17 million which includes the elimination of the Preserve America grants and a proposed a 50% cut to National Heritage Areas

We are especially concerned about reductions to Save America's Treasures.  It has enjoyed broad, bi-partisan Congressional support, and has played a vital role in successfully saving over 700 of America's most significant places in all 50 states, from Ellis Island to Mesa Verde National Park to Valley Forge to Thomas Edison's Invention Factory. In a statement early today, Richard Moe responded to the proposed cuts, "Over the last decade the Save America's Treasures program has helped preserve some of our most significant historic places through modest grants that leverage private dollars, create jobs and strengthen communities. What's not to like about this program? It's incredibly short-sighted that the administration proposes eliminating it at a time when it's needed more than ever."

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is very concerned these important programs, that preservationists have fought hard to create and fund, have taken such a big hit. We will be calling on all of you over the next few weeks to send the message to Congress that these programs are both effective and essential to federal preservation efforts. Please stay tuned to see how you can help in these efforts.

We will be providing more information about additional historic preservation elements of the President's Budget shortly.

Editor's Note:  The Preserve America program was launched by First Lady Laura Bush in Mobile with the assistance of the Mobile Historic Development Commission in 2003.  Mobile is a Preserve America City with signs marking the entrances into Mobile.
Alabama House Bill 458 Will Help Save Our Neighborhoods
by Keri Coumanis, Assistant Director

There is a new bill proposed by Representative Jamie Ison, Alabama House Bill 458, which establishes an expedited quiet title and foreclosure procedure pertaining to tax sale property acquired from the State Land Commissioner. HB 458, a class 2 municipality (City of Mobile only) bill, is currently pending in the Alabama State Legislature.


Within the City of Mobile, there are 1500 abandoned, tax-delinquent properties where taxes have not been paid since at least 2006 -- approximately 1200 of these are located within the I-65 loop. In other words, at least 80% of the abandoned, tax-delinquent parcels are either in historic districts or neighborhoods that could potentially be historic districts. As we look to expand historic districts and protect existing ones, reclaiming the abandoned properties found in the neighborhoods south of Texas Street and north of Old Shell Road is essential.


Presently, Alabama law does not provide an efficient, realistic, or timely method by which to place these properties back into the stream of commerce.  Under existing Alabama law, after three years of tax-delinquency, the property is sold to the State Land Commissioner for the amount of back taxes due. Once the title transfers to the State, the title remains indefinitely clouded with both the tax lien and the original owner's right of redemption. This right to redeem is not extinguished until a new owner (the "tax-sale purchaser") both pays the tax lien and occupies and invests in the property as his own for three years.  Without clear title, and, therefore, no title insurance or access to financing, very few private citizens stand in a position to invest in tax sale property, particularly in neighborhoods where property values have plummeted and an aging housing stock requires a significant initial investment above and beyond the tax lien.  


Since extinguishing the owner's rights of redemption, and, therefore, acquiring clear title to the property, are attached to the tax-sale purchaser's ability to invest in and occupy the property, rather than according to the length of time the property has been tax-delinquent, tax-delinquent property remains off the tax rolls indefinitely.  Meanwhile, the abandonment of a single property depresses the values of other properties around it, which leads to further abandonment and disinvestment. The tax-delinquent properties eventually become nuisances and the street becomes blighted. All along, tax revenues are not collected.  As such, existing Alabama law elevates the tax-delinquent owner's right to redeem the tax-delinquent property over the rights of adjacent property owners, the welfare of the community and the revenue-collecting efforts of the state and municipality.


HB 458 addresses this issue. Here's a brief overview of the legislation:


§        The City will initiate an expedited quiet title and foreclosure action in Circuit Court against abandoned property held by the Land Commissioner for non-payment of taxes; 

§        A property will only be selected for the quiet title proceedings if and when there is a buyer willing and able to redevelop or rehabilitate the property;

§        The City will identify all parties with an interest in the property and serve notice of the impending quiet title action. The property will also be posted with the notice and notice will be advertised as necessary;  

§        After serving proper notice, the Court will hold a hearing to give the owner and all interested parties an opportunity to step forward and redeem the property;

§        If no one redeems the property, the Court will enter an order giving the City good and marketable title; the City will then transfer this title to the party willing to reinvest in the property.


HB 458 will enable the City to promote reinvestment in those urban neighborhoods suffering from a concentration of tax-delinquent, abandoned properties.  The Bill is being sponsored by Representative Ison, who introduced it last week. The Bill goes to a committee hearing on Thursday with the local house delegation. A vote in the House may occur as early as next Tuesday. At this juncture, we have received positive feedback from our House of Representatives; however, the Bill would still need to pass the Senate. The Act becomes effective immediately upon passage.


The MHDC would like to ask that everyone please contact your state representatives and request that they support this Bill. 

ARB at a Glance
The Architectural Review Board is continuing to work hard to protect our historic districts.  Here is a look at their body of work for January 2010.
Total Applications                        
Applications Approved by Staff - 42           
Applications Reviewed by ARB - 13          
Applications Approved by ARB - 9            
Applications Tabled by ARB - 2                   
Applications Denied by ARB - 2               
Applications Withdrawn - 0                       
Applications in Design Committee - 0      
Applications Appealed - 1                     
Applicants estimate the proposed job costs for renovations and improvement to homes and buildings in districts, under the Architectural Review Board's jurisdiction, will cost an estimated $590,959.  To date, an estimated $9,287,289
in construction cost have been spent in our historic districts.
For more information on the Architectural Review Board, and for a schedule of meetings, please visit the MHDC website at
Preservation Leadership Class to begin in March
The Mobile Historic Development Commission will be offering our very popular Preservation Leadership Class again this spring.  Classes begin on Tuesday, March 9 and continue every Tuesday for six weeks.  Registration fee is $50 for the class.  The class will include an overview of the historic architecture of Mobile, a session on the guidelines used by the Architectural Review Board, guest speakers and a "hammer and nails" tour of a restoration project that is currently underway. 
If you are interested in participating in this class, call now.  Space is limited to 35 people.  Deadline for registration is February 19. For several years, the class has filled and a number of people could not be accommodated.  It is recommended that you register early.  Registration is not complete until your fee has been paid.
For more information call the MHDC office at 208-7281, or visit our website at
2010 Mobile Historic Homes Tour to feature Ashland Place
The Historic Mobile Preservation Society is happy to announce that this year's Mobile Historic Homes Tour will feature six outstanding homes in Ashland Place. 
The homes range from a grand 1908 Georgian Revival to a lovely raised 1950s home.  This year's Tour will focus on how contemporary families live in historic homes and showcase Ashland Place, a walkable neighborhood.  
This year's Mobile Historic Homes Tour will be held on Friday, March 19 and Saturday, March 20, from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. 
Along with the homes open for tour, we are offering a host of supporting activities to help round out your Mobile Historic Homes Tour experience. 
On Friday and Saturday afternoons, our historic house museums - Richards DAR House, Conde Charlotte House, Bragg Mitchell Mansion, Oakleigh and the Portier House - will be offering an Afternoon Tea beginning at 2:00 p.m. with an additional $10 ticket.  Proceeds from the teas will benefit each house museum. 
The Mobile Historic Development Commission will be giving a guided Walking Tour of the Church Street Graveyard from 3:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m.  The tour is available with a separate $5 ticket.
Noted architect L. Craig Roberts, AIA, will give a lecture on the historic architecture of Mobile at Bernheim Hall on Friday evening beginning at 5:30 p.m.  The lecture will be followed by a Champagne reception.  Tickets to this event are $15.
For a complete run-down on the weekend activities, please visit the Historic Mobile Preservation Society's website at
Mobile Historic Homes Tour tickets are $17 in advance, $20 day of the tour.  Tickets are available for purchase at the following ticket outlets: Fort Conde Welcome Center, Conde Charlotte House, Downtown Mobile Alliance, Mobile Arts Council, Oakleigh, Cotton Capers, Bragg Mitchell Mansion, Ivy Cottage, High Cotton Consignments, Antiques At The Loop, B&B Pet Stop, Five Gold Monkeys, It's Inviting, Ellen's, and Page and Palette in Fairhope. 
Supporting event tickets are available for purchase through HMPS.
Citizen's Academy to Begin February 23
The City of Mobile will be offering its popular Citizen's Academy beginning in late February.  The seven classes, which are free to all interested citizens, will begin on February 23 and continue through April 13, from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m.  The classes will alternate between Tuesdays and Saturdays. 
According to Chris Barraza, the Citizen's Academy is designed to give you a better understanding of how the city government works and to help you understand how to navigate the various city departments.
For more information, or to register for the classes, please contact Chris Barraza, Neighborhood & Community Services Department, 208-7540, or contact her at
Huntsville Named to 2010 America's Dozen Distinctive Destinations by National Trust
Congratulations!  Alabama's own Huntsville has been named one of the 2010 America's Dozen Distinctive Destinations by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  We're proud to share with the world what you no doubt already know -- that Huntsville offers heritage travelers a unique opportunity to experience  historic homes AND sites associated with the birth of the American Space movement - all in one city.

(Photo Credit: Jeffrey Greenberg)

Huntsville, Alabama joins 11 other great destinations on our 2010 list.  And for the first time, the public will determine which of the 12 destinations will be the 2010 Fan Favorite.  Starting today you can vote for your favorite city or town on this year's list.  And when you vote, you can enter to win a complimentary two-night stay at any Historic Hotel of America (no purchase necessary).  

You can vote as often as you'd like at from today through February 28 (open to legal residents of the
U.S., 18 years of age or older).  

We hope you'll take this opportunity to support
Huntsville, Alabama (or any one of our other 11 honorees this year) with your vote.  We also hope that you'll share the link with friends, colleagues and family who share your interest in experiencing America's authentic heritage when you travel for business or pleasure.

Calendar of Events
Old Dauphin Way Historic District
February 25 - General Meeting, 7:00 p.m., St. Mary's School
March 25 - General Meeting, 7:00 p.m., St. Mary's School
Church Street East Neighborhood Association
Feburary 27 - Church Street East Art Festival, 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., Spanish Plaza, ticketed event, all proceeds benefit the March of Dimes.
Historic Mobile Preservation Society
March 19 & 20 - Mobile Historic Homes Tour, for more info visit their website at

To submit events, please forward information to Mobile Historic Development Commission at  Please include contact information. 
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Rhonda Davis
Public Relations Chair
Mobile Historic Development Commission
In This Issue
ARB Appeal Denied by City Council
MHDC Welcomes Two New Commissioners
President Obama's Budget Eliminates Preservation Funding
Alabama House Bill Will Help Save Neighborhoods
ARB at a Glance
Preservation Leadership Class to begin in March
Historic Homes Tour Features Oakleigh
Citizen's Academy to Begin February 23
Huntsville Named to 2010 America's Dozen Distinctive Destinations by National Trust
Calendar of Events
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