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FOCUS: Process to notify public of possible demolitions of historic places could be made

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The historic Crutcher house, built in 1796, has been demolished. (Photo submitted)

More protections for historic places in Franklin County could be added in the future. 

Members of the Franklin County Trust for Historic Preservation have been meeting with county government staff about creating a process that would give citizens notice of historic places that are up for demolition.

The conversation comes after a historic house on the Blanton-Crutcher Farm was demolished earlier this year by a developer to construct more buildings. The site is listed on the National Register for Historic Places, which was created by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. 

According to listings found on the NPS website, Franklin County is home to about 50 historic places on the register. Among them are government buildings like the State Capitol or the Old Governor’s Mansion, as well as Kentucky State University’s Jackson Hall and Hume Hall and the Gooch House in South Frankfort. In rural Franklin County, sites include the Switzer Covered Bridge and Stewart Home and School.

Some of the places on registry include land where a historic structure previously stood like the Blanton-Crutcher Farm. A few archeological sites’ addresses are not public, but the sites are listed on the register in an effort to protect them from looters, said register archivist Jeff Joeckel in an email to The State Journal. 

On behalf of the Franklin County Trust for Historic Preservation, Natalie Wilkerson spoke at the Oct. 22 Franklin County Fiscal Court meeting about the idea of creating a process to notify the public about demolitions of historic sites. The court asked her to find more information about what sites the county has, which have been demolished and what other local governments do to protect historic places. 

Recently, she told The State Journal that the trust has been discussing options with Franklin County Planning and Zoning Director Robert Hewitt about “what would be palpable.” At Friday’s Fiscal Court meeting, Hewitt told magistrates that he had spoken with Wilkerson, representatives of the Kentucky Heritage Council and the city. He said the trust hopes to attend the Nov. 22 Fiscal Court meeting to give an update on the list of historic places that are still standing. A draft of a proposal probably won’t be ready for that meeting, but the group has talked about creating a process for historic building demolitions for the city and the county, Hewitt told The State Journal. 

“The point of the process of demolition is so that there’s public awareness, so that possible other options to demolition can be explored,” Wilkerson said. 

If the county had a process that monitored the possible demolition of a historic site, it could make citizens aware and provide transparency, she said. Property owners usually look to demolish a building if they think it would increase property value or they do not have a plan for its future. If public notice was required, a potential buyer could come forward or the property owner might learn about getting tax credits to maintain the property. 

Wilkerson said one of the biggest qualifications is that a building is at least 50 years old. For example, the Capital Plaza Tower, which was demolished last year, would have been a half-century old since it was built in 1969 and could have been a contender for the register. 

The NPS says that after contacting Kentucky’s State Historic Preservation Office, which is the Kentucky Heritage Council, a potential listing for the register must meet the National Register Criteria for Evaluation, which involves looking at a property’s age, significance and integrity, or whether the property still looks like it did in the past. 

In order to delist a site from the register, the KHC would review a property and then send a request to the National Register of Historic Places. So far, no sites in Franklin County have been removed, according to NPS records.  

Currently, the county can issue demolition permits, which property owners can request and receive after the property is reviewed by a planner and a building inspector. For large tracts of farmland, property owners can request a farmstead exemption, Hewitt said. 

“I would absolutely support a process,” Magistrate J.W. Blackburn told The State Journal on Friday. He said it should not be “cumbersome” but allow the public to know of pending demolitions. Maintaining historic buildings is important for a community’s history and education, he said. 

“I’m not against development. I’m against bad development,” Blackburn said. 

Judge-Executive Huston Wells, asked if he would support such a process, said that “it’s not that easy to say ‘yes.’”

“I think the idea and concept is something that I support, but there’s a lot of variables there,” Wells said. He gave an example in which members of the community may want to see a building with historic value stand, but it could be dilapidated without a roof or plants growing out of it. He wants to know where the middle ground would be. 

Magistrate Lambert Moore said he would like to see more details before taking a position. Magistrate Michael Mueller also said that it was too early for him to give support but said that “it needs to be talked about.” 

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