County help sought in Maeystown preservation

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While the Village of Maeystown has the distinction as an entry in the National Register of Historic Places, a group addressed the Monroe County Board of Commissioners on Monday with the goal of creating an extra level of preservation.

Tom Wobbe, a retired regional and city planner who has experience as an adviser to Monroe County planning and zoning boards, spoke on behalf of a group of residents and Maeystown property owners to ask commissioners to research a potential “historic overlay” district to be established to protect the “core” of the village, including its oldest buildings and unique features.

He said there are currently no protections apart from existing county zoning regulations to preserve the historic integrity of Maeystown, such as tearing down a section of the original stone walls which exist on properties throughout the village.  

Wobbe explained that the national historic designation is more an “honorary title” and “offers little to no protection” from a federal level to prevent significant changes that could damage the aesthetic of the village, which he argued is vital to its existence.

“Historic preservation is the future of Maeystown,” he said,   

Wobbe emphasized the goal of the group was to prevent irreparable changes in the village by curtailing significant alteration or removal of village aspects central to its character.

He cited the demolition of the Maeys Store building in 1973 as an example. Also mentioned was a blacksmith shop near the village’s stone bridge which was removed years ago, something which could have been prevented by a historical zoning district.   

Concerning Maeystown, Wobbe said the village does not have the resources to have its own zoning board and creation of a specialized district would fall under the county’s jurisdiction.

He continued by stating the best way to “preserve the character of homes” in Maeystown is through the creation of a “local historical district.”

While many details of potential district home requirements were not described, Wobbe noted only a “very basic ordinance” would be needed. He contrasted the group’s vision with existing historic districts in Belleville, which have stringent requirements such as rules for the types of doors and windows allowed on houses.

Wobbe said the group did not want to spend extensive time developing specifics until it was determined if the county would consider the district as a possibility.

He said the group had done other research of residents’ opinions and presented a preliminary map of a possible area of the village where the zoning district would likely have the most support. The main areas in the map included residences and business from approximately Mill Street at Franklin Street to Jacob Lane and Church Street.

There were three properties on the map whose owners did not indicate support of the district – although Wobbe said one of the individuals was not opposed but just wanted to see more details before consenting.

The Maeystown Village Board also provided a letter of support for the group in bringing the issue to county commissioners, although the vote was not unanimous.

Wobbe said the support level for a historic overlay district in Maeystown was about 90 percent. 

After the presentation, Monroe County Board Chairman Dennis Knobloch said if the project were to proceed, he would like to see a “working committee” established with representatives of both Maeystown and Monroe County contributing. 

“If you want an amendment to the zoning code passed and a document that is going to go out to the people who are going to have to abide by the rules, you do not want anything in there that could cause questions or concerns,” Knobloch said. “Everything should be spelled out here.”

“I think this a good concept,” Commissioner George Green said, but added he would be “hesitant” to pass any ordinance without knowing more details. 

Commissioner Vicki Koerber referred to ad hoc planning and zoning committees of the past as a model for how the project could work. She cautioned that members of a potential committee should be chosen carefully to ensure an “all inclusive” representation of interests.

The discussion ended with Knobloch saying the board will “proceed with some study on this and decide on a direction”  and then contact the group with its findings.

In other business, the county board approved an agreement for federal aid for shoulder work on Maeystown Road from the Park Street roundabout in Waterloo to the first intersection with Mill Street in Maeystown. As part of the federal funding, Monroe County Engineer Aaron Metzger said the shoulders will have rumble strips installed. He estimated the work will be done in August and will be completed in about 10 days, weather permitting.

Metzger also reported he will be submitting grant proposals for several projects. He noted some federal funds may be available sooner than expected, which will help keep certain projects on schedule.

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