Pre­serv­ing his­tory

Growth spurs con­flict be­tween preser­va­tion, devel­op­ment

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - ALEXAN­DER NICOLL

Years of wa­ter dam­age have stained the walls. Holes in the ceil­ing ex­pose the sec­ond floor to the first. The stair­case creaks, boards strain­ing un­der the pres­sure of each foot­step. A musty aroma taints the air, as if some­one was ri­fling through the pages of an old book.

The new owner, Jane Hunt Meade, said she and her hus­band met with three ar­chi­tects about pre­serv­ing the house. They all gave her the same an­swer: Tear it down.

“They said if any­body wanted to save it, work should have been done on it decades ago,” she said late last month.

Years of ne­glect led to the des­o­late state of the sto­ried Stone-Hil­ton House, but some con­cerned neigh­bors in the Wash­ing­ton-Wil­low His­toric District launched a cam­paign to save it while others wor­ried how it might be re­placed.

The fu­ture of the Stone-Hil­ton House spot­lights the con­flict be­tween pre­serv­ing his­tory and pro­tect­ing per­sonal prop­erty rights.

The Stone-Hil­ton House is listed on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places. The 1870s home is a sig­nif­i­cant struc­ture in the Wash­ing­ton-Wil­low His­toric District in Fayet­teville, ac­cord­ing to its list­ing by the Arkansas Her­itage Preser­va­tion Pro­gram.

A struc­ture is con­sid­ered his­toric if it is as­so­ci­ated with a sig­nif­i­cant event, per­son, or ar­chi­tec­tural style or if it holds im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion about the past, ac­cord­ing to the reg­is­ter. It also has to be at least 50 years old in most cases.

Recog­ni­tion alone won’t save the house. One of the only pro­tec­tive mea­sures for the house and any other his­tor­i­cal build­ing is for a city to pass a preser­va­tion or­di­nance.

A preser­va­tion or­di­nance al­lows cities to reg­u­late what changes can be made to the ex­te­rior of build­ings in his­toric dis­tricts. Reg­u­la­tions can in­clude what ma­te­rial may be used in ren­o­va­tion and what ar­chi­tec­tural fea­tures may be in­cluded to make sure houses’ ap­pear­ances re­main sim­i­lar to the time pe­riod of the orig­i­nal build­ing.

No res­i­den­tial his­toric dis­tricts in North­west Arkansas have an or­di­nance pro­tect­ing them. City of­fi­cials and preser­va­tion­ists have strug­gled to get neigh­bor­hood sup­port be­cause an or­di­nance would con­strain pri­vate prop­erty rights.

Com­mis­sions would en­force the rules by re­quir­ing prop­erty own­ers to ob­tain a cer­tifi­cate of ap­pro­pri­ate­ness be­fore work can be done. The cer­tifi­cate ver­i­fies the pro­posed work meets the ar­chi­tec­tural and his­tor­i­cal stan­dards of the area.

Three or­di­nances pro­tect non­res­i­den­tial struc­tures: the White Han­gar at Drake Field in Fayet­teville, which houses the Arkansas Air & Mil­i­tary Mu­seum; a two-block area in Rogers’ down­town; and the Shiloh Mu­seum of Ozark His­tory in Spring­dale and its sur­round­ing prop­erty.

Ben­tonville, Rogers, Spring­dale and Fayet­teville all have had their share of con­tro­ver­sies when it comes to his­tor­i­cal preser­va­tion. Among the four cities, there are 11 his­toric dis­tricts and 482 prop­er­ties listed on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places as ei­ther stand-alone struc­tures or as part of the dis­tricts.


Many cities strug­gle to bal­ance his­toric preser­va­tion and pop­u­la­tion growth.

North­west Arkansas is ranked as the 22nd fastest-grow­ing metro area in the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to es­ti­mates from the U.S. Cen­sus Bu­reau. Wash­ing­ton County’s pop­u­la­tion has in­creased by a lit­tle more than 12 per­cent, and Ben­ton County has had an al­most 17 per­cent in­crease since 2010.

Res­i­dents of­ten re­act neg­a­tively to the an­nounce­ment of a new devel­op­ment in a his­toric area of town, said Greg House, owner of Houses Inc., a Fayet­teville-based prop­erty man­age­ment and devel­op­ment com­pany.

“When­ever there is change, peo­ple push against it,” he said.

Re­strict­ing per­sonal prop­erty rights also curbs the goal of preser­va­tion.

Mark Zweig, founder of Mark Zweig Inc., a devel­op­ment firm based in Fayet­teville, served on a his­toric district com­mis­sion for a few years in a com­mu­nity near Bos­ton. He said that ex­pe­ri­ence leads him to think peo­ple here aren’t ready for a preser­va­tion or­di­nance that would limit their rights as prop­erty own­ers.

“Peo­ple don’t re­al­ize if the his­toric com­mis­sion has teeth and can en­force cer­tain stan­dards and main­tain the in­tegrity of what’s there, they don’t re­al­ize what the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of that are,” he said.

Be­ing told what they could and couldn’t do to their houses an­gered prop­erty own­ers, he said.

Zweig said peo­ple want to dic­tate what others do with their prop­erty but don’t like it when some­one starts telling them what to do with theirs.

Jen­nifer He­naghan, a deputy re­search direc­tor with the Amer­i­can Plan­ning As­so­ci­a­tion, said devel­op­ment and preser­va­tion can be mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial.

“They have very sim­i­lar goals,” she said. “They both im­prove the re­vi­tal­iza­tion of the area and boost tourism.”

He­naghan said cities need to have a plan lay­ing out the ex­pec­ta­tion and reg­u­la­tions for his­tor­i­cal preser­va­tion res­i­dents can con­sult be­fore con­flict arises. Get­ting that in­for­ma­tion out would pre­empt a lot of prob­lems, she said.

Be­ing reg­is­tered as a his­toric home im­proves a prop­erty’s value, said Mark Christ, com­mu­nity out­reach co­or­di­na­tor for the Arkansas His­tor­i­cal Preser­va­tion Pro­gram.

Zweig said prop­erty value is more about lo­ca­tion than the build­ing on the land in North­west Arkansas. Many of these dis­tricts and homes are close to down­town ar­eas or so­cial hubs where res­i­dents want to con­gre­gate. The de­sire to be close to these ar­eas has bumped up the value of the land over the years, he said.

The Stone-Hil­ton House is an ex­am­ple. From 1995 to 2015, the value of the land in­creased by 241 per­cent, while the build­ing in­creased by 65 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to county records.

He­naghan said the prop­erty value de­pends more on how well main­tained the build­ings are and how much the neigh­bor­hood has in­vested to keep its his­tor­i­cal in­tegrity in­tact.

“Older neigh­bor­hoods have the abil­ity to drive eco­nomic devel­op­ment be­cause they have that built-in char­ac­ter that would cost a heck of a lot of money to re-cre­ate from scratch,” she said.

Both House and Zweig said they en­joy pre­serv­ing houses when they can, but some­times its cost-pro­hib­i­tive.

“I ac­tu­ally have to pay my debt and make a buck off of this,” House said.


Al­ter­na­tives ex­ist if a build­ing can’t be pre­served, said Allyn Lord, direc­tor of the Shiloh Mu­seum of Ozark His­tory. They in­clude build­ing sim­i­lar struc­tures to re­place old homes and hav­ing some­one pho­to­graph and record in­for­ma­tion about a house be­fore it’s de­mol­ished.

House said he thinks there’s value in the ap­pear­ance of his­toric prop­er­ties be­cause peo­ple are at­tracted to the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the ar­chi­tec­ture. If they can’t be saved, the new struc­ture should re­flect the old.

“It’s eas­ier to get the com­mu­nity to ac­cept change if you’re match­ing what is al­ready there,” House said. “That’s not a rad­i­cal change to the com­mu­nity you’re in­volved in. Se­condly, there’s just a mar­ket ap­peal if there’s a cool ar­chi­tec­tural in­tegrity to it. It can be an as­set.”

Own­ers of­ten pre­serve his­toric homes by adapt­ing their use such as turn­ing a house into an of­fice space or an old post of­fice into a mu­seum.

The Thaden House in Ben­tonville was built in the mid-1880s and was the home of fa­mous avi­a­tor Louise Thaden. It was sched­uled for de­mo­li­tion last year but now will serve some func­tion for the Thaden School, said Clay­ton Marsh, found­ing head of the new pri­vate school in Ben­tonville. The house was dis­man­tled and will be re­assem­bled at the school’s lo­ca­tion on the old fair­grounds in Ben­tonville.

Marsh said the house could be used as a gath­er­ing space for com­mu­nity mem­bers, a sem­i­nar room for teach­ing, a place to house art ex­hibits or a meet­ing room for the school’s board. School of­fi­cials are ex­plor­ing op­tions and wait­ing for the bud­get to be de­fined.

The Lane Ho­tel in the Rogers Com­mer­cial His­toric District is an­other ex­am­ple of adap­tive re­use. The ren­o­vated ho­tel will open this fall as a Haas Hall Acad­emy, a pub­lic char­ter school with other cam­puses in Fayet­teville, Ben­tonville and Spring­dale.

He­naghan said com­pa­nies through­out the coun­try have been mov­ing head­quar­ters from sub­urbs closer to down­towns be­cause it of­fers a bet­ter qual­ity of life. Google, for ex­am­ple, re­fur­bished an old Nabisco fac­tory for its new of­fices in Pitts­burgh in 2011.

The Depart­ment of Arkansas Her­itage and the U.S. Depart­ment of the In­te­rior of­fer tax in­cen­tives and grants to those who pre­serve his­toric prop­er­ties. Lo­cal preser­va­tion so­ci­eties also pro­vide grants for home­own­ers to ren­o­vate their houses to align them with the era when they were built.

Pro­po­nents of preser­va­tion have found suc­cess in ad­vo­cacy and rais­ing aware­ness. Cherie Clark or­ga­nized protests out­side Ben­tonville’s Thaden House when plans were to de­mol­ish it, prompt­ing city of­fi­cials to try to save it. Then the own­ers of the house even­tu­ally do­nated it to the Thaden School.

“Out­side of ad­vo­cacy, there’s not much that can be done,” Christ said.


Nu­mer­ous at­tempts have been made to pass a his­toric district or­di­nance in Fayet­teville, said An­drew Gar­ner, the city’s plan­ner. The last try was within the past decade, he said. City of­fi­cials ap­proached busi­ness own­ers in the West Dick­son Street His­toric District, but the pro­posal never gained trac­tion.

The own­ers were “adamantly op­posed to such a reg­u­la­tion,” he said.

Ben­tonville has no plans to cre­ate a com­mis­sion or an or­di­nance, ac­cord­ing to email from Mayor Bob McCaslin and Coun­cil­woman Stephanie Or­man.

Leah White­head, pres­i­dent of the Ben­ton County His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, said res­i­dents are work­ing to make it hap­pen.

“We have to ac­cept progress be­cause it’s go­ing to hap­pen; we can’t stop it,” White­head said. “We can only hope we can come to­gether and say, ‘OK we’re go­ing to pre­serve this be­cause it’s im­por­tant.’ I mean how are the kids two gen­er­a­tions from now go­ing to know what oc­curred?”

Spring­dale’s com­mis­sion meets on an as-needed ba­sis. The last time it was needed was more than 10 years ago when a man wanted to build an ad­di­tion to his home in the district, said Melissa Reeves, direc­tor of pub­lic re­la­tions for Spring­dale.

The Rogers Com­mer­cial His­toric District re­quires a busi­ness owner to get a cer­tifi­cate of ap­pro­pri­ate­ness to ren­o­vate the front of a build­ing.

“It’s a nec­es­sary evil,” said Sheila Reece, owner of Cook­ing Stu­dio of Down­town Rogers. “Mod­er­a­tion is al­ways

good, but I un­der­stand and ap­plaud the con­cept.”

Kim Wal­ters, co-owner of Wal­ter’s Boot & Shoe Re­pair with her hus­band, Aaron, said she didn’t mind go­ing through the com­mis­sion be­cause they haven’t had ma­jor work done to the store.

Ed McClure, com­mis­sion chair­man, said own­ers have never com­plained about the ex­tra reg­u­la­tions.

“My sense is landown­ers ap­pre­ci­ate that some­one is look­ing out for their in­vest­ment and mak­ing sure the his­tor­i­cal in­tegrity is in­tact,” he said.

He said the com­mis­sion has ap­proved some al­ter­ations that might not have con­formed 100 per­cent to the idea of strict preser­va­tion.

“The His­toric District Com­mis­sion has done an amaz­ing job pre­serv­ing his­tory, but also un­der­stand­ing the needs of mod­ern-day com­merce,” he said.

Reece said the com­mis­sion­ers have been more than ac­com­mo­dat­ing. They of­fered to help find the cor­rect ma­te­rial the Reeces would need to make sure the work was his­tor­i­cally con­sis­tent.

Rogers re­vised its his­toric district guide­lines ear­lier this year to make it eas­ier and quicker for busi­ness own­ers to get a cer­tifi­cate. One change is any work con­sid­ered to be gen­eral main­te­nance can by­pass pub­lic no­tice re­quire­ments.

“Things are re­ally stream­lined now,” Reece said. “Things are mov­ing for­ward.”


The Stone-Hil­ton House has been at the cen­ter of de­bate in Fayet­teville since the Meades bought the home in May. Con­cerned res­i­dents were wor­ried about what she planned to do with the home. Some ap­pealed to the city’s his­toric district com­mis­sion, while others launched a Face­book cam­paign to save the house.

“There’s no way any­one could re­store that house, his­toric com­mis­sion or not, and have it work out eco­nom­i­cally,” Zweig said.

The two-story brick house was built in the Ge­or­gian ar­chi­tec­tural style with Ital­ianate de­tails, ac­cord­ing to the Save Stone-Hil­ton House Face­book page. The style com­bines sym­met­ri­cal de­sign with dec­o­ra­tive el­e­ments such as in­tri­cately en­graved doors and roof cor­nices.

Hunt Meade said she has ev­ery in­ten­tion to build a home fit­ting the ar­chi­tec­tural in­tegrity of the neigh­bor­hood. She has been ap­proved for a build­ing per­mit for a lit­tle more than $800,000 in a neigh­bor­hood where houses have re­cently sold for near a half-mil­lion dol­lars.

She also plans on try­ing to keep parts of the orig­i­nal house such as the fire­place in the first floor liv­ing room, the base­ment and a few of the re­main­ing cor­nices on the roof.

Bob Stafford, one of the res­i­dents who at­tended the com­mis­sion meet­ing back in June, said it was up­set­ting to hear the house had to be torn down be­cause the neigh­bor­hood and Fayet­teville would lose a piece of his­tory.

“I hope that they do try hard to re­ally build some­thing that fits the neigh­bor­hood,” he said.


Joi Knight (from left), direc­tor of devel­op­ment with Haas Hall Acad­emy; David Swain, project man­ager; and Stacy Keenan, direc­tor of devel­op­ment, speak July 25 in the re­stored lobby area at the new Haas Hall Acad­emy Rogers Cam­pus in Rogers. The cam­pus is in the former his­toric Lane Ho­tel in the Rogers Com­mer­cial His­toric District.


The Stone-Hil­ton house, lo­cated at 306 E. Lafayette St., in Fayet­teville was re­cently pur­chased by Ben Meade and his wife Jane Hunt Meade.


The Stone-Hil­ton house, lo­cated at 306 E. Lafayette St., in Fayet­teville has sus­tained dam­age through­out the years.


The new Haas Hall Acad­emy Rogers Cam­pus, lo­cated in the former his­toric Lane Ho­tel in the Rogers Com­mer­cial His­toric District, fea­tures orig­i­nal re­stored wood­work on the ceil­ing, in­clud­ing the ini­tial H.


This July 12 photo shows an in­te­rior view of the Stone-Hil­ton House, lo­cated at 306 E. Lafayette St. in Fayet­teville.


Joi Knight (left), direc­tor of devel­op­ment with Haas Hall Acad­emy, and Stacy Keenan, direc­tor of devel­op­ment, walk up the south steps July 25 at the new Haas Hall Acad­emy Rogers Cam­pus in Rogers. The cam­pus is in the former his­toric Lane Ho­tel in the Rogers Com­mer­cial His­toric District.

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