The Richmond Hill City Council Tuesday night approved a historic preservation ordinance and the creation of a commission to oversee it.
Moving forward, changes made to structures located within certain designated zones in the city will need to apply for a “certificate of appropriateness” first, although the new ordinance does provide for an appeals procedure.
Rebecca Fenwick, a historic preservation specialist with the Savannah-based architectural firm of Lominack Kollman Smith, consulted with the city on the ordinance.
“Richmond Hill has a unique story of national significance,” Fenwick told council members last year. “And with heritage tourism on the rise, the city is in a great location right off of I-95 to take advantage of that.”
Fenwick said the key to historic preservation is realizing what a community has and taking steps to protect it.
“Once they are gone, they are lost forever,” she said of historic structures that fall by the wayside.
Fenwick worked with representatives from the Richmond Hill Downtown Development Authority, Arts on the Coast, the Richmond Hill Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Historical Society of Richmond Hill to identify culturally and historically significant buildings for preservation.
She pointed to four specific areas of town that would benefit the most from the efforts.
The first is being called the Ford Commercial Area, which consists of about a dozen buildings of significance along Ford Avenue between the two sets of railroad tracks. The second is Blueberry Village, located north of Highway 144 and east of I-95 consisting of Laurel, Oleander, Spruce and Edgewood.
Next is The Bottoms, with 72 parcels along Pinecrest, Mimosa, Magnolia, Wildwood and Cherokee. Finally is Educator’s Row, an extension of The Bottoms, bound by Maple, Ivy, Linwood and Dogwood.
Establishing a historic preservation ordinance and a commission to oversee it leads to the ability to designate historic landmarks, which means landowners could be eligible for historic preservation grants, as well as tax freezes and tax cuts.
“Property values also come in to play,” she said. “The historic districts in Savannah see values grow at a higher rate than other parcels, and when there is a decline they experience it at a slower rate and recover faster.”
The historic preservation, of course, is tied closely to the legacy of Henry Ford in Richmond Hill. The auto magnate and his wife Clara were heavily involved in the community during their years here, building many of the structures for residents to live in, worship in and shop in.
Examples include the Martha-Mary Chapel, now owned by St. Anne’s Catholic Church, the nearby Community House (currently Carter Funeral Home), and the Ford Bakery, which the city has purchased and plans to refurbish as the new home of the CVB.