Arts district ATM irks com­mis­sion

El Dorado News-Times - - Front Page - By Tia Lyons Staff Writer

Af­ter lengthy and deeply in­volved dis­cus­sions that in­cluded a self-de­scribed “pub­lic sham­ing” Thurs­day, the El Do­rado His­toric District Com­mis­sion ap­proved two post-Cer­tifi­cates of Ap­pro­pri­ate­ness ap­pli­ca­tions.

One of the COAs per­tained to sig­nage and a dec­o­ra­tive dis­play for a chil­dren’s cloth­ing store that re­cently re­lo­cated to the city’s com­mer­cial his­toric district, and the other in­volved the re­cent in­stal­la­tion of a free-stand­ing ATM within the district.

Prior to the start of the EHDC’s reg­u­lar monthly meet­ing, Com­mis­sioner Parks Ham­mond ex­pressed his dis­plea­sure at the ATM be­ing set up on the cor­ner of Jef­fer­son and Cedar with­out prior ap­proval from the his­toric district com­mis­sion.

The ATM was in­stalled on the site to ac­com­mo­date the grand open­ing of the Mur­phy Arts District late last month.

When com­mis­sion­ers moved to the item on their agenda, Ham­mond gave of­fi­cials from First Fi­nan­cial Bank a dress­ing-down about the mat­ter.

“I’m very up­set that this comes up af­ter it was in­stalled. Y’all have dealt with us be­fore, and you should have been here be­fore,” Ham­mond said. “We can’t pun­ish you, other than pub­licly em­bar­rass­ing you.”

“You’re set­ting a hor­ri­ble prece­dent that says we can do what­ever we want, when­ever we want … I will not look very fa­vor­ably on First Fi­nan­cial Bank in the fu­ture,” he con­tin­ued.

COAs are re­quired for any ex­te­rior al­ter­ations that would change the ar­chi­tec­tural and his­toric char­ac­ter of the city’s com­mer­cial his­toric district, which is roughly bor­dered by Lo­cust, Cleve­land, Oak and Jack­son.

Prior to start­ing such work within the district, prop­erty and busi­ness own­ers are re­quired to present a COA ap­pli­ca­tion to the EHDC de­tail­ing the scope of the project.

The com­mis­sion re­views the ap­pli­ca­tion to make sure the project fits within the de­sign guide­lines of the com­mer­cial his­toric district.

Com­mis­sion­ers strongly dis­cour­age af­ter-the-fact COAs. While pro­ceed­ing with projects with­out a COA does not carry any puni­tive ac­tion from the com­mis­sion, prop­erty own­ers can in­cur costs of hav­ing to redo a project if it does not ad­here to de­sign guide­lines or pay fines levied by the city if the work vi­o­lates city codes, com­mis­sion­ers said.

El­iz­a­beth Eg­gle­ston, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the EHDC, noted Thurs­day that when First Fi­nan­cial pre­vi­ously sub­mit­ted a COA re­quest, the work per­tained to ex­te­rior com­po­nents of a ren­o­va­tion project at its North Wash­ing­ton Av­enue of­fice.

Eg­gle­ston said she thought MAD had ap­proached the bank with a re­quest for the free-stand­ing ATM.

“Be­ing good cor­po­rate ci­ti­zens, they re­sponded in a quick and timely man­ner, and they may not have known be­cause it did not have any­thing to do with a build­ing,” Eg­gle­ston ex­plained.

Stewart Wil­son and Melissa Jerry — se­nior vice-pres­i­dent of op­er­a­tions and ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent/chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, re­spec­tively, of First Fi­nan­cial — cor­rob­o­rated Eg­gle­ston’s state­ments.

Wil­son said the time­frame for the ATM project was nar­rower than usual, not­ing that MAD se­lected the site and ap­proved the de­sign and colors of the ATM.

He also said that since MAD ap­proached the bank about the project, First Fi­nan­cial of­fi­cials thought MAD was han­dling ap­pli­ca­ble re­quire­ments, in­clud­ing sub­mit­ting a COA.

“If we had known we were re­spon­si­ble for this project, we would have come be­fore y’all,” Wil­son said. “It was a pretty quick turn­around. We were just try­ing to sup­port the district and sup­port the area.”

Eg­gle­ston said that as soon as bank of­fi­cials learned about the is­sue, they re­sponded ac­cord­ingly.

“First Fi­nan­cial is a won­der­ful cor­po­rate cit­i­zen, and we do ev­ery­thing we can, when we can, to help the com­mu­nity,” Jerry said.

Com­mis­sioner Teresa Gol­li­her said MAD should have come be­fore the com­mis­sion prior to set­ting up the ATM.

“I will have words with MAD,” Ham­mond said.

A sign and a picket fence Com­mis­sion­ers nar­rowly ap­proved a post-COA that was sub­mit­ted by chil­dren’s cloth­ing store Coco’z Cot­tage, which re­cently re­lo­cated from North Col­lege to 108 N. Wash­ing­ton.

Eg­gle­ston said a post-COA was turned in on Sept. 21 for sig­nage and a dec­o­ra­tive picket fence that had al­ready been in­stalled.

Owner Jen­nifer McNabb and her hus­band Jeff McNabb ex­plained that a walk-through of Down­town El Do­rado in­spired the idea to hang the busi­ness’s sign un­der­neath the awning on the store­front. Hor­i­zon­tal signs adorn the front en­trances of sev­eral down­town busi­nesses.

“They’re re­ally too low. No one ever came for a COA, and I don’t know who paid for or in­stalled the signs,’ Eg­gle­ston said.

The sign for Coco’z Cot­tage dis­plays the busi­ness’s name, while the oth­ers iden­tify the type of busi­ness that op­er­ates in­side.

The other signs were hung years ago upon a rec­om­men­da­tion by des­ti­na­tion de­vel­oper Roger Brooks, who drafted the ac­tion plan that led to the “Fes­ti­val City” brand­ing idea for El Do­rado.

On Thurs­day, his­toric district com­mis­sion­ers homed in on the height of the Coco’z sign, not­ing that de­sign guide­lines for the com­mer­cial his­toric district call for pro­trud­ing signs to hang at least eight feet above the side­walk.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing that he was be­ing “overly cau­tious,” Ham­mond said he ob­jected to the sign be­cause it did not meet the height re­quire­ment.

“We’d have to talk to the city at­tor­ney, but by ap­prov­ing ex­cep­tions to the guide­lines, we may be tak­ing on li­a­bil­ity be­cause it’s too low," Ham­mond said.

“I’m (6 feet, 4 inches), and I haven’t had any problems,” Jeff McNabb said.

“There are sev­eral signs that have ex­isted down­town like that for years, and if we ask her to make her sign higher, we’ll have to ask the oth­ers,” Gol­li­her said.

Lo­cal ar­chi­tect Michael Rogers, who for­merly served as chair­man of the EHDC, said re­quire­ments for the Amer­i­cans with Dis­abil­i­ties Act call for signs to be placed at least 6 feet, 8 inches off the ground.

Jen­nifer McNabb pointed out that the Coco’z sign is higher than the awning.

Com­mis­sioner John Benson Jr. noted that Ham­mond ref­er­enced de­sign guide­lines for pro­trud­ing signs, adding that the Coco’z sign hangs from the store­front awning and is not at­tached to the build­ing.

The com­mis­sion even­tu­ally ap­proved the COA, which al­lowed for an ex­cep­tion that places li­a­bil­ity on Coco’z and does not set a prece­dent.

The picket fence com­po­nent was ap­proved with a vote of 2 - 1, with Ham­mond vot­ing no and Gol­li­her ab­stain­ing.

Benson and Com­mis­sioner Jon Rob­bins voted in fa­vor of the decor, with Benson cit­ing the de­sign guide­line that al­lows for con­tem­po­rary de­signs. Ham­mond ini­tial y mo­tioned to op­pose the fence, but failed due to the lack of a sec­ond.

Ham­mond said he felt the fence con­flicts with the over­all ar­chi­tec­tural de­sign of the build­ing and gives the false ap­pear­ance of “his­toric char­ac­ter.”

He pro­posed an op­tion of set­ting up the ap­pliqué as art­work in­side the build­ing.

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