The Talladega Historic Preservation Commission voted last week to file a civil lawsuit against property owners Gary and Rebecca Crews, who are accused of doing work around their home in the Silk Stocking District without a certificate of appropriateness (COA).
Commission member David Street abstained from the vote, according to a story by The Daily Home’s Chris Norwood, presumably because he and the Crewses -- his next-door neighbors -- have been involved in litigation in the past.
According to board Chairwoman Nancy Lutchendorf, the Crewses, of 412 South St. E., did obtain a COA for a fence on their property, but they had also damaged a driveway and landscaping without getting a certificate.
The Crewses have now filed a lawsuit of their own in circuit court. Their lawsuit names the city of Talladega and Street, who’s a member of the City Council and the Historic Preservation Commission.
The Crewses claim Street has used his position on the commission to harass them, and that the city has been negligent in its oversight duty by allowing it to happen. Aside from attorney and court fees and $225,000 in damages, the Crewses simply ask to be left alone to restore and enjoy their home.
The role of the Historic Preservation Commission is an important one.
Talladega’s historic properties, particularly those downtown and in the Silk Stocking District, deserve care and preservation, and the commission’s job is to encourage upkeep and maintain the historic character of those structures.
However, an ongoing struggle – not just in Talladega, but in every city – is finding the money to afford the work on these precious commodities. That’s why it’s baffling that, when a couple comes along who’s willing to spend their own money to restore one of these homes, the commission would take the extreme measure of suing that couple essentially over a permission slip.
If this couple was painting the house in their favorite college football team’s colors or making major structural changes, that would be one thing. But this is simply a couple working to restore one of Talladega’s historic homes to its former attractive and livable state, and using their own money to do it.
Lawsuits by the historic commission should be filed only as a last resort to correct a major grievance, not over cracked concrete on a driveway. Such overreaction could discourage potential private investors from looking at Talladega as an option.
Then what happens to these old homes?
And where will the money come from for the commission to pursue its lawsuit against the Crewses?
And are there not better ways that money could be spent?
The commission should drop the lawsuit and work with the couple to get the driveway fixed. As for the COA, has anyone truly been hurt?
While the commissioners seem to be operating within the letter of their bylaws, they seem to have abandoned the spirit of historic preservation in this case and, for some curious reason, have unnecessarily made a small matter something … personal.