Pottery Hill, a site on the banks of Bayou Castine that Native Americans used in prehistoric times, will have more restrictions on how it can be used in the future, following Mandeville City Council action Thursday.
The council voted unanimously to designate the site as a landmark, a step that means any potential development on the city-owned land would have to go before the Historic Preservation District Commission. Council members described the designation as an added layer of protection.
But an even bigger restriction may be in the offing. The council will likely vote next month on whether to change the site's zoning, now residential and marina district, to recreational open space.
Both changes drew opposition from Josh Buchholz, a neighboring property owner who wants to buy part of the land.
Attorney Jeff Schoen, who represented Buchholz and his wife at the meeting, said the couple plans to build a home on their property. They want to buy a portion of three adjoining lots, a swath that is 60 feet deep by 75 feet wide.
Schoen cited a letter written by a city-hired consultant that said the land the Buchholzes want has no archaeological integrity. He questioned why officials were disregarding that finding.
Only a small part of the Pottery Hill land has been found to have artifacts that qualified it for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, and that portion has been listed.
But City Attorney Paul Harrison said officials don't need an expert or consultant "to tell us what we think is culturally significant to the town." He pointed to a recent decision to include a grocery store as a landmark on the city's historic resources survey.
Schoen argued that the landmark designation for Pottery Hill is premature, suggesting that the council wait until after deciding whether or not to sell the land or, as an alternative, carve out the portion his clients want to buy from the landmarked area.
But advocates of protecting all of Pottery Hill carried the day.
Jack Cantrell, a 15-year-old Eagle Scout candidate who is researching historic sites in nearby Fontainebleau State Park, urged the council to preserve Pottery Hill for future archaeological research.
Rebecca Rohrbough said that the same arguments against designating the site as a landmark had been made before the Historic Preservation District Commission and rejected. "Have a little faith in your commission," she said.
Jason Welch said the land serves as a neighborhood park that he and his children use regularly.
Several other speakers said the city needs to preserve the site for its educational and tourism potential.
After those comments, Schoen said his clients were withdrawing their request to carve out the lots they want. The City Council then voted unanimously to designate the full property as a landmark.
But the rezoning proposal, which was only introduced Thursday and was not up for discussion or a vote, drew even more opposition from the Buchholzes. Schoen asked the council to reconsider introducing the measure.
Councilman Mike Pulaski said that rezoning would effectively take the property out of commerce. "Maybe we should decide first if we're selling it," he said. "Is the cart before the horse?"
But Councilwoman Lauré Sica said that the city bought the land in 2007 with the express intention of taking it out of commerce.
"The city has owned this for 12 years," Schoen complained. "Until my client expressed an interest, nothing happened."
Councilman Clay Madden said that the council had already introduced the measure, which now goes to the Planning and Zoning Commission, and there was no reason to discuss it further Thursday. He said the merits will be debated in front of that panel and when the matter returns to the City Council on Feb. 14.