Letter to be sent from city to downtown property owners

The Historic District Development Commission (HDDC) is penning a letter to property owners and merchants in Hannibal's downtown historic district requesting they adhere to city guidelines protecting the neighborhood’s historic appearance or face potential fines.

During a meeting of the HDDC earlier this week, the four members in attendance agreed to have a letter written that acknowledges its duties for overseeing the historic district and ensuring that city guidelines are followed pertaining to building rehabilitation, new construction and other changes which would affect the overall appearance of Hannibal's historic downtown commerce area.

It was agreed that it would be most impactful if the letter was signed by Mayor James Hark.

Dena Ellis of the HDDC said the letter needs to contain a clear warning for those who choose to ignore the historic district ordinances. "There is no way to get people to follow the rules if there are no consequences," Ellis said. "(The letter) needs to say there will be fines if the rules aren't followed."

Ellis said a lack of enforcement has prompted people to ignore the HDDC and the historic district's guidelines.

"Nobody wants to pay any attention to us. Nobody wants to follow the rules, because they all say nobody else does," Ellis said. "It can't go on or there will be nothing historic left downtown. We might as well disband this whole group, because we have no teeth."

This will not be the first letter of its kind to be sent out. The previous letter, which was signed by the HDDC commissioners and hand delivered by Mike Kettelkamp of the HDDC, was distributed in December 2014.

"It was a reminder that they have to follow the (historic district) guidelines when making any changes to the buildings or property," Kettelkamp said. "That was four years ago, and we need to do it again."

The tone of the latest letter will be different.

"It's gotten to the point where we need to be a little more direct with the importance of following the guidelines," Kettelkamp said.

"It needs to be rewritten to be very specific in explaining the functions of all parties," HDDC Commissioner Sara North said. "We can only offer a yea or nay. We are not enforcers of what is city code."

North said that the public needs to understand the HDDC is only carrying out its mission when it interprets the historic district guidelines. "They are not our directives, it's an ordinance," North said. "We only represent the city."

HDDC member Steve Ayers supports reaching out to downtown merchants regarding the importance of the historic district guidelines.

"You're having to sell this to a bunch of people who do not like to be told what to do," Ayers said. "I feel that way about it. I hate being told what to do, but I know that these directives protect my property."

Ayers added that the city's backing of the HDDC is essential to its success. "We definitely have to have that support from the city before you go and try to sell this to the merchants," Ayers said.