Downtown group approves new design guidelines

TUPELO — The board of the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association approved a new set of design guidelines Tuesday that members hope will help the district maintain its historic roots.

The 87-page packet provides guidelines for commercial and residential projects that cover only the exterior of buildings.

They cover everything from facade paint colors to awnings to store signage to house landscaping. They cement Main Street’s involvement in the planning process for the downtown overlay district, which includes the retail area of downtown Main Street, Fairpark and the area around the BancorpSouth Arena.

The guidelines are still subject to a process that eventually will require City Council approval.

Currently, developers and businesses have to get approval from Main Street’s design committee at its monthly meeting before they can get a permit from the city to construct a building or make changes to the exterior of a current facility. If the project is proposed for Fairpark, such as Mugshots, the project also must get approval from the Tupelo Redevelopment Agency, which governs Fairpark, at its monthly board meeting.

Brandon Bishop, chairman of Main Street’s design committee, said the group has been using standards from the Department of the Interior, which are geared toward historic properties.

Bishop of JBHM Architects created the updated guidelines with Charlie Watson (Pryor & Morrow Architects), William Dexter (Pryor & Morrow), Shipman Sloan (JBHM), Marilyn Vail (city’s zoning administrator), David Wammack (city’s chief building inspector), Sherrie Cochran (city’s environment planner) and Main Street’s staff, including Executive Director Debbie Brangenberg.

“This set of design guidelines is not to make people mad,” Bishop said. “It’s not to force people to do things a certain way. It’s to make our downtown better and increase our property values. It’s to provide more information. We’re trying to be a help to people, not a hindrance.”

The committee took the Department of Interior standards, along with guidelines from Collierville, Tenn., and tailored them for Tupelo.

The guidelines now go to the city’s development services department, which is expected to incorporate them into the city’s proposed development code.

After that, they’ll be published before a public meeting in November, according to city planner Pat Falkner.

Then, the City Council will vote on the code. Falkner said council members can approve parts or all of the code.

If the guidelines are approved along with the code, they then will be enforceable. The city’s Department of Development Services will be responsible for the enforcement, according to BJ Teal, director of the department.

Teal said it won’t add a lot of work to her staff because they’ll rely on Main Street members and staff to report projects that are out of compliance. Frequent offenders now are business signs.

Falkner said the businesses usually fix problems before fines are levied. Falkner said downtown Tupelo isn’t the only place in Tupelo with more stringent design guidelines.

He said the Barnes Crossing area and South Gloster Street areas also have specific design criteria.

But, in contrast to downtown Tupelo, the design review for those districts go directly to the city for approval.

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