“I believe this is the first change in the boundaries of the historic district since it was created in 1989,” Councilman Jerry Orlans said.
Vacant land at 79, 83 and 85 Webb Street has been taken into the district at the recommendation of the city’s planning staff and the blessing of both state and local historic preservation officials.
“The inclusion of vacant property in and around a historic district provides the following: a natural buffer; the chance to review proposed construction and its impact to the surrounding historic fabric; protection of the character of the historic district,” Planning and Zoning Director Brad Townsend wrote in an April memo to mayor and council.
The expansion was prompted by an application by Lehigh Homes to add to its existing Canton Walk development between Canton and Webb streets.
Lehigh’s general manager Brendan Walsh said the company wants to build a mix of townhomes, cottages and single family homes.
But because the Webb Street properties are all zoned single family, the zoning change to historic district, which allows more uses, is needed to accomplish that.
Not everyone who lives on Webb Street now is on board with that idea. Several residents and their relatives came to the council meeting to let their feelings be known.
Speaking on behalf of her mother, Evelyn Anderson said people on the street want to hold onto their properties and don’t want to be forced out by new development.
Her mother, Mildred Blake, is not interested in selling to Lehigh, Anderson said. “My grandfather worked hard to obtain that land in Roswell,” Anderson said.
“He had a hard time getting that property and we’re not going to relinquish it.”
But Gwen Martin, whose family also owns Webb Street property, said they have decided to sell. “There are a lot of mixed emotions” among the residents there on this issue, Martin said.
Two big concerns emerged during the discussion. One was whether the city would have to take any property by eminent domain to make the street better accommodated to fire trucks that might have to access the new development.
Mayor Jere Wood promised that wouldn’t happen. “No one is going to take that property. You can bank on it,” he said.
But the mayor was less able to assuage residents’ fear that the new development would increase their home values to the point that they couldn’t afford property taxes any longer.
Development benefits the city as a whole, he said, and “it’s an unfortunate byproduct that taxes go up” because of it.
Should someone want to build on those properties as currently zoned, the city would have no say whatsoever on architecture and design.
The opportunity to have more control was the reason Councilman Kent Igleheart said he voted to include them in the historic district.
But he noted that the unintended consequence of redevelopment in older areas of the city might be that rising property values could make it too expensive for current residents to stay in their homes.
“That’s probably the case long-term for people who have lived there for a very long time, and that concerns me,” Igleheart said.