Fayetteville City Council adopts first Heritage and Historic Preservation Plan
Fayetteville City Council for the first time adopted a Heritage and Historic Preservation Plan. Fayetteville’s Historic District Commission worked with Fayetteville’s Black Heritage Preservation Commission to draft and obtain approval for the comprehensive plan.
Britin Bostick, long range planning and special projects manager for the City of Fayetteville, walks onto the porch of a beautifully restored late 19th century home in the Washington-Willow District on a recent summer afternoon.
She takes a seat on one of a half dozen rocking chairs. In her lap she holds a binder containing the city’s new Heritage and Historic Preservation Plan.
"Yes, so for a city that has so many wonderful historic places, in 2023 we get our very first Heritage and Historic Preservation Plan so this is our guiding document for the next 5 to 10 years on what kinds of activities will be undertaking to do historic preservation in Fayetteville,” Bostick said.
And the timing couldn’t be more perfect she said.
It's important to remember that Fayetteville is 195 years old we're getting close to our 200-year anniversary, so we have about 200 years of built structures.Britin Bostick
Because this is the first historic preservation plan, the city has seen the loss of many historic structures.
Five years ago, a group of concerned residents began pressing the city to take some sort of preservation action. Planners say this new 143-page document will guide property owners to make better decisions.
This plan is filled with illustrations, graphs, tables and lists strategic planning goals. It also shares Fayetteville’s rich history tracing back to First Nations, and explains the social, economic and environmental benefits of preservation. Identifying the city’s historic assets is key to preserving them, Bostick said.
“We have several National Register Historic Districts places that are so important that they are put on a national listing with documentation with research with photographs,” Bostick said.
She said this plan would also require an impact report from the federal government before any new project could begin in a National Register Historic District.
“We don’t just have national registered districts which are collections of properties," Bostick said. "We have individually listed National Register properties. We have almost 70 of those in Fayetteville now, so that means the structure was considered important enough on its own to be listed on the national listing and to have to be considered how many federally funded projects are done.”
Currently, only one local historic district exists in Fayetteville, the White Hangar at Drake Field.
"So if you’ve ever been to the air museum down on the very South end of town, you have been to Fayetteville’s one and only local historic district," Bostick said.
Bostik said property owners can request historic protections where applicable, and the Fayetteville City Council just built a path in the city code to allow local property owners to make that request themselves.
“If you and some neighbors are concerned about your properties being protected in the long term please reach out I’m happy to talk about it," Bostick said. "But really, the only other protections that we would have is if the state had an easement on a historic property and that would be something that would be done through the state and not through the city.”
The document states that the National Register of Historic Places designation does not protect properties from demolition unless it is involved in a preservation project that receives federal funding, licensing or permitting. A historic town like Eureka Springs has banned demolition of historic homes and businesses, with few exceptions, but historic property owners in Fayetteville still have the right to tear down their structures.
“If they have the correct demolition permit to do that work safely but otherwise we don't have those protections in place currently," Bostick said. "And part of the reason for that is not every community wants those protections and Fayetteville made it pretty clear in the past that they're not looking to have those.”
The plan does not require special permits for new paint colors, new window installation, or renovations for historic property owners.
If you are going to do new construction and addition things like that then you'll definitely want to come visit our building safety office but even in our historic districts like the beautiful one that we're in, we don't have any specific regulations you would have to follow outside of the normal building code regulations and our typical zoning that we have across the city.Britin Bostick
Public participation has been key in drafting the plan, Bostick said, which was initiated this past September. A preliminary plan was drafted and presented at several public meetings, along with an online questionnaire. The survey had more than 600 responses, which outperformed their goal of 400 responses, but in a city of 100,000 people, Bostick said they are still seeking input.
“We need to know what historic preservation looks like to Fayetteville because we are unique and we want things to be a reflection of our communities' values not just kind of a standard set that you might get from just anywhere,” Bostick said.
Bostik fielded emails and calls, and also connected with residents at the Fayetteville Farmer’s Market last May, collecting over 3,000 votes from residents on what to prioritize.
"That was really exciting to have so much. And then people were so involved in creating this document that they actually provided copy edits for me," Bostick said. "They would tell me where they found errors in spelling or punctuation or they thought a date was wrong, and we were able to get all of those comments incorporated into the final document.”
The plan is neatly organized into five sections. One section in particular highlights key historical properties.
“For example if you've ever been on the square you may have noticed a building on the West side, it's a white building and it has ‘Mrs. Young’ stamped at the top and you might wonder how did a woman get her name stamped on top of the building," Bostick said. "The history of that building is a part of women's history in Fayetteville. And it's an important part because we often don't acknowledge that women were important and usually well-resourced real estate developers at the end of the 19th century.”
Fayetteville Historic Preservation Commission is collaborating closely with the Fayetteville’s Black Heritage Preservation Commission, founded in late 2021.
“The commissions meet separately every month because they fill two separate roles and the historic district Commission has a very strong role in our certified local government status," Bostick said. "We have to have a qualified historic district commission in order to be eligible and be in good standing with the program. That's how we get some really amazing grants to do historic preservation work.
"And then the Black Heritage Preservation Commission focuses on elevating and highlighting and celebrating Fayetteville Black heritage the sites and people who are part of that very specific cultural heritage and history in Fayetteville.”
Fayetteville’s original African American community settled in southeast Fayetteville, where many descendants continue to reside in the forested Spout Spring neighborhood. It’s situated in a valley below the historic courthouse and was first settled by emancipated African Americans after the Civil War.
D'Andre Jones, Fayetteville city council member Ward 1, and council representative to the Black Heritage Preservation Commission said their mission is to accurately record the city’s Black history and document both existing and lost cultural assets. For example, he said, the commission met late last month to discuss Henderson School. The school was founded in 1866 and accommodated young Black children in the community during segregation.
“The conversation is still unfolding," Jones said. "However, we did mention the historic Black churches the historic St. James and the Saint James Methodist Church, which by the way is the longest standing African American church in Fayetteville. And then there are some homes, but unfortunately many of those homes don’t exist but those structures that do, we certainly want to highlight them.”
Jones said the commission plans to also document historic Black-owned businesses, as well places like the Yvonne Richardson Community Center, which was built in 1996 to serve Black residents.
"And you know how important it is for our community to be represented and the history be told accurately. And the history not only being told but also being recorded and also being made available to the public in the manner in which we are hoping to do. And that's, of course, establishing a historic district in in South Fayetteville."D'Andre Jones
Under diversity, equity and inclusion historic preservation parameters, some of the first LGBTQ+ heritage sites in Fayetteville will also be documented.
“Those places don't always last," Bostick said. "Sometimes the places change or they're remodeled or they might even be demolished, but it doesn't mean those places are not important to the memory of that part of our community and their cultural identity.”
Bostick said this ambitious newly-adopted historic preservation plan was made possible with grant support and the city council giving $20,000, which was part of a matching grant of $50,000.
“I mentioned that the Historic District Commission is important for our certified local government status," Bostick said. "That status helps us to apply for grants every year. And we were able to get a $50,000 grant thru having that status and that relationship to do this project.”
Fayetteville’s first-ever historic preservation plan is supported by the Historic Preservation Fund administered by the National Park Service Department of the Interior and the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program an Agency of the Division of Arkansas Heritage. Bostick said she welcomes more feedback and involvement from the community on this living document.