Residential historic district proposed for Cape

Saturday, November 10, 2007
Often called the Boathouse because it was designed to look a bit like a steamship, this house on Highland Street is one of the places being used as the basis for developing Cape Girardeau's first residential historic district. (Kit Doyle)

Historic preservationists are hoping to create Cape Girardeau's first residential historic district.

It's a long process.

"First you determine where you want the district to be, then you have to identify the buildings, photograph them, determine their owners, get legal descriptions," said Brenda Schloss, a city planning technician. "Then you start contacting everybody."

It requires 51 percent of the property owners in the neighborhood to approve the plan, according to Schloss.

She made a presentation on the proposal at an Oct. 27 Neighborhood Nights event. A second meeting is planned for 7 p.m. Tuesday in room 125 of Dempster Hall, at the corner of Henderson Avenue and New Madrid Street.

The proposed district's boundaries are Highland and Hillcrest drives to the north, Henderson Avenue to the east, Broadway to the south and North West End Boulevard to the west.

Mike Sheehan, who lives in the neighborhood and is a member of the city's historic preservation commission, started the process. His home was built in 1927. He said the oldest home in the proposed district was built in 1914.

Schloss said the city created an ordinance in 1990 adopting standards of rehabilitation set by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Members of the city's historic preservation commission have been studying guidelines for creating local residential districts, Schloss said.

Schloss said while Cape Gir?ardeau has five districts on the National Register of Historic Places, none has been created for the city's Local Historic Register. All of the city's districts on the national register are in commercial zones, she said.

A Local Historic Register designation adds a layer of protection -- properties cannot be demolished without the city's approval -- and preserves the historic character of an area.

"When you purchase your home, that's probably the biggest investment you're going to make," Schloss said. "Most property owners will do extensive research before buying a home. You don't just buy the house, you buy the neighborhood. You want to know what the houses look like, what the zoning is. ... You invest in the field of the neighborhood, not just that house."

Getting on the Local Historic Register is a point of pride for people who have invested in maintaining or restoring their homes, Schloss said.

At Tuesday's meeting, she'll talk about the process and answer questions. She said homeowners are most often concerned that design guidelines will be too restrictive.

Most callers are surprised to learn the general guidelines apply only to the visible exterior of the home -- such elements as setbacks, porches, mailboxes and landscaping. Such details are negotiable in the planning stages, she said, and owners are not required to make their homes instantly fit the design guidelines. Rather, the changes are made over time, often during renovations.

Some owners of property on Normal Avenue and West End Boulevard "are concerned about the boulevard itself," Schloss said. "Cape used to have more boulevards, and they've been taken out. It just changes the fabric of a community when you take that out."

A Local Historic District designation ensures buildings are maintained and not demolished. But they don't prevent property owners from renting out the homes, Schloss said.

To learn more, call Mike Sheehan at 334-1024 or Brenda Schloss at 334-8326.

335-6611, extension 127

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