Process of adding Willis Russell House to historic district to begin in January

Published 2:23 pm Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Danville Architectural Heritage Board will begin the process of adding one of the city’s oldest structures to its historic overlay district in January.

The Willis Russell House on West Walnut Street was previously thought to sit within the boundaries of the downtown district, which provides protections for historic buildings through the AHB.

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But several months ago, it was discovered the property is not actually listed within the district. Barbara Hulette, chair of the Boyle Landmark Trust, which owns the historic building, asked the AHB in September to add the property to the historic district.

“The Willis Russell Memorial Cabin was constructed around the time that Kentucky became the 15th state in the union and was built less than a block from where the new state’s first constitution was signed,” Hulette said at the time. “The cabin is one of the only surviving structures from this important period of Kentucky’s earliest days and is one of the oldest structures still standing in its original location in Danville. This cabin is assumed to be part of the historic district in Downtown Danville but the address … is not listed. Boyle Landmark Trust respectfully requests that the cabin be listed officially so that it can be protected.”

The AHB initially asked for city staff to look into whether any other property owners also want their buildings added to the district. The process of growing the historic district can be lengthy, so adding multiple properties at once can save time.

Bridgette Lester, code enforcement director, told AHB members this week no other properties had been found to be added.

“We have maybe another one that’s been brought up, but we’ve not really heard anything more back on it,” she said.

AHB members said they were fine proceeding with the process to add the Willis Russell House to the historic district.

“We will go ahead and get (a public hearing) set up for January,” Lester said.

In order to add property to the historic district, the AHB must first “assemble information about the district or property being considered” and hold a public hearing, according to the city ordinance that governs the AHB.

The AHB must then provide a report to the Danville City Commission and recommend the property be added; then the P&Z Commission must hold a second public hearing. Once the P&Z Commission provides “comments and recommendation” to the city commission following its hearing, the city commission will then have 60 days to either approve or deny the change, according to the ordinance.

AHB member Julie Wagner and Chair Tom Tye both reiterated at this week’s AHB meeting that they always believed the Willis Russell House had been in the historic district previously.

Wagner said it’s very surprising that properties adjoining the property are in the district, but “we excluded Willis Russell, when it’s the oldest house on the block.”

Lester said Danville could do more research in an attempt to figure out if an error somewhere led to it being incorrectly labeled as outside the district.

“I think we just do the process and get it in for sure,” Wagner said.

“I don’t think there’s any contention about wanting it in,” Tye said.

“It should be a slam dunk, but we’ve actually officially got to do it to get it in,” Lester said.

The AHB meets again 9:30 a.m. Jan. 17.