Too Little, Too Late 

Who missed the warning signals?

Who missed the warning signals?

Ann Reynolds has had better months. The executive director of the Metro Historical Commission is engaged in a bitter struggle to save the historic Jacksonian Apartments on West End. In the process she has taken a lot of heat.

Members of Metro’s Board of Zoning Appeals and owners of the Jacksonian property have criticized Reynolds for not working to get 80-year-old building on the National Register. They have complained that she never spoke directly with the property owners about ways to save the building. They have faulted her for emerging at the 11th hour to plead before the board at a zoning variance hearing. “The Metro Historical Commission is in a better position to ‘Save Jack’ than us,” griped zoning board member Joe Meeks.

“Hindsight is 20-20,” Reynolds admits. “I remember talking with John Rochford [who then managed the building for his father-in-law, John Cobb] in 1977, when The Jacksonian was nominated for one of our architectural awards. He seemed proud of the building at the time.” What’s more, Reynolds concedes that, “when Mr. Cobb died [in May 1997], I should have approached the heirs about the desirability of preserving The Jacksonian. Of course, by then it might already have been too late.”

Reynolds was reassured (NEED A YEAR), when she heard from Metro Historical Commission staffer Bill Kelly, who lives in The Jacksonian, that new plumbing had been installed and that the building’s boiler had been replaced. “The next thing I knew,” she says, “there was a sign out in front notifying people of the zoning board hearing. That’s when I learned of the demolition plans.”

The assault on The Jacksonian has given Reynolds and her staff a wake-up call. “The warning signs were there—a historic building on a major arterial, in an area actively redeveloping, with zoning unsympathetic to preservation,” she says. The historical commission staff is now compiling a list of other historic structures that may be similarly endangered.

Once that list is completed, Reynolds plans to inform owners of the buildings about economic incentives that encourage preservation. National Register status does not give a building legal protection, but qualifying for the Register makes an owner eligible for federal tax credits of up to 20 percent of the cost of restoration. The owner may also give a “facade easement” to a not-for-profit organization, reassigning part of the value of the building to a not-for-profit agency, such as Historic Nashville. The owner then receives a federal income tax deduction, plus a property tax break because the owner has a smaller stake in the property. Such easements have protected Cornerstone Square at Sixth Avenue and Church Street, the Elliott School in Germantown, and various buildings on Second Avenue.

Asked why she had not urged The Jacksonian’s owners to consider such measures, Reynolds explains that her agency’s policy “has focused more on creating historic districts, because we can protect a lot more buildings with one action that way. But I’ll always regret that I didn’t talk to Mr. Cobb about having The Jacksonian designated as a local landmark.”

Demolition of a building with that status must be reviewed by the Historic Zoning Commission, and its owner must present clear evidence of economic hardship before permission to bulldoze is granted. That’s one kind of evidence John Cobb’s heirs might have been hard-pressed to provide.

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