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story.lead_photo.caption Local historic preservationists have expressed concerns the Capitol Avenue Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places may be delisted if too many properties are demolished or considered to be non-contributing structures after the damage sustained by the May 22, 2019, tornado. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

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After a tornado swept through Jefferson City on May 22 and damaged several homes in the East Capitol Avenue area, some historic preservationists are concerned the area will be removed from the National Register of Historic Places.

The Capitol Avenue Historic District was added to the National Register in 2005. It includes the 400-700 blocks of East Capitol Avenue, as well as the 100-200 blocks of the adjacent north and south streets from Adams Street to Cherry Street.

If too many contributing buildings in the Capitol Avenue Historic District are demolished or listed as non-contributing, the district could be delisted from the National Register, Historic City of Jefferson President Donna Deetz said last month.

A contributing structure, site or object adds to the historic integrity for which the property is significant, according to the National Parks Service, which oversees the National Register.

The Capitol Avenue Historic District has 107 contributing buildings and 12 non-contributing buildings, according to the National Register application.

It is too soon to know whether the district could lose its National Register designation, said Anne Green, HCJ executive director, and Michelle Diedriech, national register and survey coordinator for the Missouri State Historic Preservation Office.

Many homeowners are still deciding what to do with their buildings, Green said, adding a few homes in the district will be demolished. She added HCJ is paying for structural analyses of two East Capitol Avenue buildings in hopes engineers will rule the structures salvageable.

"Right now, we're going to see what the next four months look like because there are just some buildings that can't be saved, and we understand that," she said. "It's definitely a concern and something we're voicing to those people living in that district as something to consider because it's a huge thing and we need to have that historic district there. It's one of the oldest parts of our community so we want to maintain it."

There are several potential options for a National Register district impacted by a natural disaster, Diedriech said.

"Let's say we have a district of five commercial blocks, and something comes in or there's a fire and takes out one of the blocks," she said. "Depending on where that block is, if it's in the middle (and) it may be just those resources that were damaged, their contributing status would change. If it's at the end of the block, it may be that a boundary decrease is warranted and that block would be removed from the boundary. However, just losing that one block out of five typically would not warrant delisting the entire thing."

Diedriech said she is "not terribly worried about the entire district being delisted."

"In terms of individual buildings, their status change or any changes to the boundary, it's just too soon to say," she added. "I've been driving past, and I've seen some crews out there trying to repair buildings, so fingers crossed that some of these buildings can be saved."

Due to limited staffing, Diedriech said, SHPO does not police the districts once they are listed on the National Register.

If someone wanted to amend or delist a National Register district, Diedriech said, he or she would have to submit evidence the neighborhood had lost parts of its historic integrity. If that occurred, SHPO would send out notifications to property owners and elected officials and accept public comments. The amendment or request to delist would then go to the National Parks Service for them to make the final determination.

"There's no real benefit to that in and of itself except for wanting to keep the documentation accurate," Diedriech said.

Representatives from the National Parks Service did not respond to the News Tribune's requests for comment.

Since some property owners with damaged buildings planned to sell or demolish their properties, Deetz said, HCJ organized a group of individuals interested in reinvesting in damaged historic homes.

A saving grace for the neighborhood may be the Capitol Avenue Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District, which sets design requirements for the area, Jefferson City Neighborhood Services Manager Jayme Abbott said. This district helps ensure the historic integrity of the neighborhood remains in place.

Having one historic area impacted by the tornado, it raises the stakes to protect other historic neighborhoods, Abbott and City Planning Manager Eric Barron said.

Heritage Strategies, LLC, a consultant working on the city's historic preservation plan, suggested the city create more local historic districts or conservation overlay districts to protect neighborhoods, Abbott said.

"The reality is we do not have a lot of regulations or protections in place for these neighborhoods that are commonly referred to as historic neighborhoods," Barron said. "Seeing a tornado have such a large impact on one of these areas that we do have this in place for, in my mind, kind of raises the importance of the other areas. We really, as a community, ought to broaden our scope and try to identify the other areas of the community that deserve equal level of protections like Capitol Avenue so that we're not entirely focused on one area and have all of our historic eggs in one basket."

Areas that may benefit from being designed a local historic district or conservation overlay district or being listed on the National Register include the Old Munichburg, Lafayette Street, East High Street, West Main Street and Moreau Drive areas, Barron and Abbott said.

Barron warned local historic or conservation overlay districts do restrict what property owners can and can't do to their properties so "it's nothing to be done lightly." He added there should be a mixture of prevalent historic character and positive reception from property owners in the area before neighborhoods move forward with these districts.

Since the National Register is an honorary designation, Green said, it does not place design requirements on properties. It encourages property owners to follow design guidelines so the area maintains its historic integrity though, she added.

"If we lose these historic buildings, these are irreplaceable buildings and it's an asset to our community that we can't get back," Green said.

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