Frequently Asked Questions for Historic Preservation Commision

“What are the economic advantages of a historic district?” 
Studies have proven repeatedly that cities with historic districts attract more tourists, residents and new businesses than those without one.  A historic district can also increase property values throughout an entire city, protect heritage and stimulate local economy by helping draw in tourists and generating increased sales tax revenues.

Meanwhile, developers, new residents and business owners can feel more comfortable investing for the long term in communities with historic districts.  And residents have an increased sense of pride in their neighborhoods.

The Economics of Uniqueness, Investing in Historic City and Cultural Heritage Assets for Sustainable Development combines several studies commissioned by the World Bank.   The book leaves no doubt what stance the international banking industry takes when it comes to both economic and quality of life benefits of historic preservation. Rachel Kyte, World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development states the case for preservation unequivocally:  “Heritage anchors people to their roots, builds self-esteem, and restores dignity.  Identity matters to all vibrant cities and all people.”

“How does historic preservation translate to prosperity in our town?” 
The small town authentic character of Bay St. Louis is a rare and major asset.  Because of our unique charm – which is in a large part due to our historic district – we’ve been named as Budget Travel’s 3013 “Coolest Small Town in America” (the ONLY one to be picked in the South!). Coastal Living Magazine named us as one of the top ten beach towns in THE COUNTRY in 2011 and journalists from magazines like Southern Living frequently feature the town.

Our expanding reputation as a “Place Apart” encourages new residents and businesses to move to Bay St. Louis, as well as attracting visitors from around the country (and beyond!).  Many believe that the Bay St. Louis historic district provides an economic engine for the town, as well as preserving our town’s culture and history for future generations to enjoy.

“How does a historic district affect the value of my property?” 
Studies in South Carolina found that buyers were willing to pay higher prices for the extra protection offered by local historic districts. In Greenville, South Carolina, house prices in newly formed districts went up on average over 50% in just a few years. In Florida, statistics show that the total impact of historic preservation in that state is a staggering $4.2 billion a year. This encompasses the impact of job creation, income generated, increased gross state product, and increased state and local taxes.

“What is a historic district?” 
A historic district is a group of two or more tax parcels and their structures. It can also be an entire neighborhood of structures linked by historical association. Structures within a historic district can differ in architectural style or historical period. A historic district can include both commercial and residential buildings and even different zoning classifications.

“Why do we need a local historic district?”
A historic district protects and increases property values, working much the way that covenants do in high-quality housing developments. It insures that anyone who moves into your neighborhood helps maintain the charm of the district – benefiting both the neighborhood and the entire community.

“Aren’t we already in a historic district?” 
Many buildings in Bay St. Louis are already listed in the National Register of Historic Places and that listing is primarily honorary. The buildings on the Register aren’t protected in any way except from demolition by federally licensed or funded projects. A local historic district provides protection for the character of Bay St. Louis.

“Can new buildings be built in a local historic district?”
Yes!  Visit any locally designated historic district and you will see new buildings. New structures and additions are encouraged to be compatible, yet distinct. New buildings do not have to be imitations of historic ones. Local design guidelines give specifics on building additions or new structures in the district.

“What are design guidelines?” 
Design guidelines are the standards that will help the city’s historic commission and property owners understand what changes are appropriate in the district. Through text and illustrations, guidelines show options for alterations, additions, and new construction. The guideline were developed with input from property owners and residents. The Bay St. Louis design guidelines are tailored to suit the city’s unique character and needs.  You can download a copy on our Resources page. 

“What if I own a house that is not historic, but it is included in the district? Do I have to go through the Commission to make repairs?” 

Yes – just like every house needs to get a building permit for most major repairs. This protects the value of all properties in the district. Since Bay St. Louis has many areas where non-historic structures exist side by side with historic ones, the Commission may eventually adopt a “rating” system into our design guidelines. This would rate the buildings according to historic significance. With a rating system, the process of permitting could be streamlined for owners of
non-historic properties (or those of lesser significance) in the district.

“If my building is included in the local historic district, does that mean I have to make it look more historic?” 
No. Preservation ordinances simply ask that any new work fit in with the existing historic buildings and not destroy more of the historic character. There is no requirement for owners to remove later additions or put back missing features.

“Can I paint my house any color I want?” 
Yes. The preservation ordinance that Bay St. Louis has adopted specifically excludes paint color from review.

“Will interior projects be reviewed?” 
No. Changes inside a house are only subject to local building codes.

“Will I have to fix up my building?” 
There are no requirements on the owner to make any repairs. Current housing and building codes already exist to ensure buildings are in a safe and livable condition.

“Can I make changes to my property if it is in a historic district?” 

Yes. Historic district designations do not prevent change. The goal is for changes to fit in with the existing character of the building and district. The changes just need to meet the locally approved design guidelines.

“In a local historic district, what would my first step be if I decided to renovate?” 

Your first step should be to look at the design guidelines for Bay St. Louis (you can download a copy here).  You can review the sections relevant to your project and then talk with the staff or Historic Commission members about the project. Then you would then submit an application to the Commission with any supporting documentation needed.  Most project require drawings.  You can download samples on our Resources page.

“What are my first steps if I want to build in the historic district?”
Talk to the city’s Zoning Administrator, Charlene Black  (City Hall building, 688 Hwy 90, Bay St. Louis, direct line – 228.469-0531).  Her job is to streamline the building process.  For complete details,  see our “How the Process Works” page.

“Will my project take longer?”
Possibly. In a local historic district, owners must get approval for their project before getting a building permit. Bay St. Louis can authorize staff members to give approval for minor projects so the waiting period may be quite short or non-existent.

Our Historic Preservation Commission meets once a month, so property owners need to add a bit more time to their project timeline.  Click here for meeting dates and deadlines to submit applications.

“Will I have to hire an architect?” 
If an owner is doing minor work, they may simply need to show the review board photographs of the existing building, and a sample of the material. If the owner is doing a major project, then the building permit process may require that an architect draw or approve the plans.

Licensed architects are trained in historic preservation (and some even specialize in it), but contractors and draftsmen are also permitted to submit designs and plans in many cases.  The type of plan details that the commission requires to be included with an application can be found on our Resources page– download “Sample Elevation Drawings.”

Click here for the article “Working With Your Architect” on Bob Vila’s website.

“What’s the difference between an architect, a home designer, a draftsman, and a general contractor?”
Click here for descriptions of services each professional performs, as well as education and license requirements.

“Will my renovations be more expensive if I am in a local historic district?” 
Projects may actually turn out to be less expensive, particularly when viewed over the long term. For example, repairing historic windows can be less costly than new replacements and add to the aesthetic value of the property. Studies have found that a major commercial preservation project will typically cost four percent less than comparable new construction.

“Can buildings be torn down in a local historic district?”
A building may be torn down in a local historic district if it poses a threat to the health and safety of residents. For buildings that are in sound condition, the preservation ordinance typically outlines steps that must be followed for demolition requests.  See page 46 in the Design Guidelines.

The Historic Commission refers to the Mississippi inventory of historic district properties when the matter of demolition is brought up.  The inventory rates properties in terms of historic significance.  This rating weighs heavily in matters of demolition.  Once a property is lost, it’s lost to future generations forever.  In a city which has lost much of its heritage to natural disasters, standing historic buildings have more cultural and community value.  Looking at the Bay St. Louis inventory is very sobering and saddening.  Buildings highlighted in blue are no longer standing.

“Will a local historic district change how I use my property?”
No. Local historic district designation does not change the underlying base zoning. For example, if you own a commercial piece of property, the historic designation will not change that zoning.

“What if I have issues with the decisions of the Commission?”
The Historic Commission is a recommending body, with final decisions made by the Bay St. Louis City Council. Any property owner who disagrees with the Council decision has the right to file an appeal through a bill of exceptions as provided by state statues.  You will need to fill out a form to appeal and the city council will take it up at the next meeting.  Expect members of the commission to attend the meeting as well to explain the decision to the council.  To obtain an appeal form, see the city’s Zoning Official, Charlene Black.

“Is the HPC connected the the Hancock County Historical Society?”

No.  The Historic Preservation Commission is a volunteer advisory board appointed by the City Council.  The Hancock County Historical Society is a non-profit organization that works to preserve Hancock County history, photographs and documents.  To learn more about it, click here. 

“Who are the members of the Historic Preservation Commission?” 
Any resident or property owner is invited to apply. Professionals such as architects, planners and contractors are especially encouraged and business people outside the building field are also invited to participate. Other professionals whose experience can be helpful include: historians, realtors, bankers, lawyers, interior designers, planners, architectural historians, educators, and/or archaeologists.

“Why do the design guidelines specify no chain link fences in front yards?  I see older ones all around town.”

The older chain link fences in the Historic District were installed before design guidelines were put in effect.  The HPC allows chain link fences to the sides and backs of houses, not in front.  This is because most real estate professionals nationwide agree these type of fences lower neighborhood property values.

It may take decades, but if no new ones are permitted in front of houses and the old ones are replaced by more attractive types of fencing, eventually, the historic district’s streets will be much more picturesque.

Read this very revealing article where several professional appraisers weigh in with their beliefs on how chain link fences detract from home and neighborhood values.