Gretna is considering granting the advisory board that oversees the city’s two historic districts the authority to approve or reject construction and redevelopment projects in them.
The seven-member Historic District Advisory Council now only makes recommendations that are passed on to the City Council, but Councilman Joe Marino will propose an ordinance Jan. 14 to give the advisory panel decision-making authority.
Marino said the city, led by Mayor Belinda Constant, has been working to get the Mechanikham-Gretna and McDonoghville districts accepted into the Louisiana Office of Cultural Development’s Main Street program.
The state requires local historic commissions to have a more direct say in whether renovations and new constructions fit the guidelines in place to retain the architectural and historic character of local neighborhoods, he said.
“It’s a major change, but it’s more along the lines of the way the historic districts in the state have modeled their ordinances,” he said.
Marino said the council would take over the role of hearing appeals, which now go to the courts. He said he considers that change would be an improvement in its own right.
Marino said the city will continue to work to get the districts accepted into the Main Street program, which helps cities tap into its urban design expertise. The designation, held by about 40 districts across the state, can help in efforts to drum up grants as well.
He said the change in the advisory committee’s authority will come with a number of smaller changes to the ordinance.
Marino said only he and Councilman Milton Crosby represent historic districts and that he expects the change to have the support of the council.
The Mechanikham-Gretna district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 and made a local historic district in 1997. The city created the McDonoghville district in 2005.
The Mechanikham-Gretna Historic District, with the highest concentration of historic structures in Jefferson Parish, is named for two of the present city of Gretna’s earliest communities. It is predominantly residential in character and maintains a small-town feel even though it has been the seat of Jefferson Parish government since 1884.
McDonoghville, named for its founder, businessman and future philanthropist John McDonogh, was established in 1815, making it Gretna’s earliest subdivided development. The McDonoghville Historic District is characterized by modest residences set back on sizable lots and a lack of commercial corridors, recalling its origins as a residential farming community.
Also coming before the council is another proposed change, introduced last month, that would outlaw the use of vinyl siding in the historic districts — a prohibition Marino said may bring some opposition from people who don’t want to spend more on higher-quality materials.
Marino said the price of superior materials, such as Hardie board, has come down, and he feels the change is important to protecting the character of the districts.
“Vinyl siding just doesn’t belong in a historic district,” he said. “It doesn’t blend, it’s new and it’s an inferior-quality material.”
Under the proposed ordinance, existing buildings with vinyl siding would be grandfathered in, and repairs to them would still be allowed.
Marino said the change is needed due to the popularity of flipping houses — a process in which people buy properties and do quick, inexpensive repairs to sell them at a sizable profit.
That measure could be voted on at the council’s Jan. 14 meeting at City Hall at 5:30 p.m.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.