MECHANICSBURG – Whether on a stroll through the village’s downtown area or just passing through the “gateway to Champaign County” by vehicle, there is bound to be a building or two that catches one’s attention in a village founded in 1814. In fact, the Central Business District in the heart of downtown has five separate listings in the National Register of Historic Places.
In an attempt to preserve the village’s history along with the Central Business District’s character and architectural heritage, the Mechanicsburg Planning Commission, at the request of village officials, developed language for the establishment of the Historic Main Street Zoning Overlay District (Article 15) of the Mechanicsburg Village Zoning Ordinance.
Mayor Greg Kimball said the proposed zoning ordinance is scheduled for a vote during council’s 6:30 p.m. meeting on Monday, Jan. 2, 2017, in the municipal building.
“It’s something that has been discussed and talked about for probably 20 years,” he said. “It’s aimed at preserving our history and our downtown area, which is the centerpiece of our town. Having a historic district would allow us to pursue some grant opportunities, also.”
Section 15010 of the Historic Main Street Zoning Overlay District states council “declares as a matter of policy that the preservation, restoration, rehabilitation, development and redevelopment of the Central Business District are matters of public necessity involving the health, safety, and welfare of its residents and businesses.”
Planning Commission Chairperson Chuck Hickey said the group was asked by council to develop a historic overlay district for the village’s Central Business District due to concerns over maintaining the historic nature and appeal of some of Mechanicsburg’s most iconic buildings.
“Their intent was to have a set of guidelines that would strengthen the appeal of investing in this district by discouraging inappropriate building modifications,” he said. “We spent over six months developing an overlay which does this in the least restrictive fashion. We do not regulate paint colors, for example.
“Our hope is that the original architecture of the commercial district will be enhanced and protected,” Hickey added.
The Historic Main Street Zoning Overlay District, if approved on Jan. 2, 2017, would include most of the downtown properties on North and South Main streets.
The boundary lines of the district on the east side of Main Street would stretch from 12 N. Main St. (Masonic Temple) to 32 S. Main St. (Real Living Darby Creek LLC). The boundary lines on the west side of Main Street would stretch from 19 N. Main St. to 39 S. Main St. (Hemisphere Coffee Roasters).
Contained within these boundaries are the following five locations listed in the National Register of Historic Places: Village Hobby Shop (7 N. Main St.), Lawler’s Tavern (15 and 17 N. Main St.), Masonic Temple (12 N. Main St.), Magruder Building (14 and 16 S. Main St.), and the Mechanicsburg Commercial Historic District (1-11 S. Main St.).
Being that the downtown area is home to such history, Village Administrator April Huggins-Davis said there has been recent movement by village officials toward zoning measures that address preservation in one way or another.
“I don’t want to tear down any of these historic buildings, because they are the essence of the village,” she said. “We are trying to work within the law to make improvements here in town so we can preserve what we still have.”
As outlined in the proposed measure, one of the primary purposes of Article 15 (historic overlay district) is to provide supplemental regulations in addition to regulations already applied to downtown buildings through the Central Business District (B-3) zoning district.
When there is a conflict between the regulations of the B-3 zoning district and the historic overlay district, the overlay regulations apply, the measure states.
If council signs off on the Historic Main Street Zoning Overlay District, any property owner or agent wishing to do any of the following within the overlay must obtain a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Planning Commission prior to the issuance of a zoning certificate or permit from the village zoning inspector and/or a certificate of occupancy or building permit from a certified building official:
•Construction of new buildings and structures
•All exterior renovations and rehabilitations of existing buildings or structures
•Additions and expansion of existing principal and accessory building or structures
•Demolition of buildings or structures
•Site improvements including parking lots, driveways, vehicular and/or pedestrian access
When reviewing applications for a Certificate of Appropriateness, the Planning Commission will evaluate how closely they follow not only the general guidelines outlined in the overlay district, but also guidelines in the areas of building rehabilitation and alteration, additions, new construction and demolition.
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-508-2304 or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.