When Jefferson City staff proposed establishing an overlay district in the East Capitol Avenue area in 2017, the goal was to protect the neighborhood's historic integrity by implementing design standards.
Two years later, an EF-3 tornado damaged and destroyed several structures in the historic neighborhood, and those building design requirements could make it difficult for property owners to rebuild.
Now, as many property owners in the East Capitol Avenue area look to repair, demolish or rebuild structures damaged by the May 22 tornado, many will have to follow the building design requirements outlined for the overlay district, as well as current building codes.
Established in April 2017, the Capitol Avenue Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District covers about 32 acres and 107 properties — loosely bordered by Adams, East High, East State and Chestnut streets, according to the city's website.
The overlay district requires property owners building new structures or rehabilitating properties to meet architectural design requirements similar to the existing architecture in the area.
The city established the district to ensure property owners rehabilitating dilapidated properties would retain the historic quality of the buildings and neighborhood, Jefferson City Planning Manager Eric Barron said.
"When it was established, the idea of a disaster befalling that street was not even contemplated, but there was the reality that there were a number of structures there that we had a pretty good idea were in rough shape and might result in a demolition situation," Barron said. "The overlay district was established so anything built back on those properties would again be compatible in designs with the area."
The overlay district also ensures new buildings or additions to current buildings are of similar design to other structures in the area.
"City staff is aware that some properties up on Capitol Avenue may be demolished," Jefferson City Neighborhood Services Manager Jayme Abbott said. "At the same time, we have the Capitol Avenue overlay district that would ensure that any future construction properties would keep with the historic integrity of the neighborhood. So there's a bit of protection up there to make sure there's no four-sided concrete building put back in or just something that doesn't match the period in time of all the other buildings."
Overlay district's design standards
There are several site design standards, which regulate a building's arrangement, driveways and parking. This includes the building having a porch and front door toward the dominant street and being within 2 feet of the average setback line.
There are more than a dozen building design standards for the overlay district outlined in the city code, regulating roof pitch, number of windows and building height, among several other items. For example, the front and side facades must be brick or stone, and the building must have at least three architectural features.
The architectural features could include arch-top or bay windows, shutters, chimneys, columns, decorative balconettes and quoins — masonry blocks along the corners of walls.
"I would probably say it wouldn't be difficult to meet (the) three (architectural features requirement) and someone really interested in doing historic buildings would not have any problem doing that," Barron said. "They would probably exceed that but it's just establishing that base level to make sure a new building is compatible with the area."
The overlay district does not apply to the installation of storm doors and windows, gutters, vents and chimney caps, as well as maintenance of existing features, interior work, Planned Unit Development plans and city code violation abatement, according to city code.
The overlay district regulation only applies to new construction and rehabilitation projects on buildings. A property owner of an existing building could repair and maintain the building's current appearance, according to city code.
Property owners can repair or replace building features that existed before 1940 "despite any conflicts with overlay regulations," city code states.
"Most of the buildings out there already meet the design requirement but let's say there (are) certain requirements for masonry or the pitch of a roof and you have a building that was not constructed with masonry — I think there's a couple out there — or maybe the pitch of the roof is different than everything else — a steep-pitched roof or something — you would be able to maintain that or rebuild that because that was historically its appearance," Barron said.
If an existing single-family home does not architecturally conform with the overlay district and was damaged by a natural disaster, Barron said, the property owner could rebuild the structure as it was before the disaster.
"If (the homes) were voluntarily removed, they wouldn't be able to be rebuilt (as non-conforming structures), but because it's a disaster-type situation, be it fire or tornado, they have a certain allowance to rebuild that structure," he said.
Since the design requirements for the East Capitol Avenue overlay district were based on the existing structures, Barron said, "I don't think we're really speaking of non-conforming or grandfather situation."
The city code also recommends property owners use the original design or architectural elements of a building, such as doors and fixtures, when renovating or reconstructing the structure.
"In the event a building comes down, it would be wonderful if whatever goes in its place is representative of what was there, be it a similar design or reuse of some of the materials, something like that," Barron said. "I think we're to that point where some would come down, and I'm kind of hopeful that whatever gets built back in their places (is) a similar design to what was there, and salvaging what can be salvaged off of the building and (storing the item) until it can be replaced. (Property owners could) hold onto that small piece that was there before the tornado."
Using the original design or architectural elements is a suggestion and not a requirement for buildings in the overlay district, he said.
Along with following the overlay district requirements, property owners rebuilding or repairing their structures should also follow the current building codes, Jefferson City Building Official Larry Burkhardt said.
The city adopted several 2015 international building codes in 2017, including the 2015 International Existing Building Code.
While the existing building codes section provides some case-by-case allowances for older buildings, Burkhardt said, several property owners should construct or repair buildings in the overlay district so the structures come as close as possible to current building codes. He added the Jefferson City Building Regulation Division can help property owners do that through the building permit and inspection process.
One example is not using unreinforced masonry, which several damaged properties in the Capitol Avenue Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District used.
"The current building code doesn't allow us to build on unreinforced masonry anymore. Period," Burkhardt said. "If they have a wall that is out of plane and not vertical anymore, it has failed. We can't just allow them to go back.
"There's a lot of forgiveness in the existing building codes but also, for instance, (if) we ever had a seismic event — that's what I'm worried about — we would lose East High Street, literally (the) 100-300 (blocks) where we have unreinforced (masonry), over on Dunklin (Street) and Capitol Avenue."
One way property owners could fix this situation is using reinforced concrete blocks then adding a brick fascia, Burkhardt said.
"If we build back the way things were — and that's an older section of town — we can make it look like it is historically," he said. "It depends on your definition. People in the historical areas will be p---ed because I'm saying, 'Well, those old materials and what you did are not right anymore.' We know better, so why should you go back and rebuild a weak structure when you can building something (stronger) and I can make it look (historic)? It's not that hard."
It's also important a property owner "(attaches) the roof structure to the building frame so it anchors it all the way down to the ground," he said. He noted several structures in the Capitol Avenue overlay district that had their roofs blown off did not have the roofs attached tightly enough.
Following the current building codes will "mitigate future damage," Burkhardt said.
"The existing building code tries to save old buildings, but we also have to protect people," he said.