Preservation officials, railroad company at odds on historic freight depot

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 19, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — Historic preservationists say the old freight depot is worth saving.
“It’s a significant resource,” said Rob Crawford, a Salisbury native and certified local government coordinator with the State Historic Preservation Office in Raleigh.
Norfolk Southern Railroad has applied for a permit to demolish the century-old depot near North Lee Street.
The depot is listed as a contributing structure in the Salisbury Railroad Corridor Historic District, along with the Salisbury Station, Yadkin Hotel and Salisbury Emporium building.
The railroad considers the vacant building a liability and has applied for a Certificate of Appropriateness from the city’s Historic Preservation Commission to tear it down, said Joe Morris, director of Salisbury’s Community Planning Services.
Neither the railroad’s attorney nor the property manager returned calls from the Post.
Historic Salisbury Foundation hopes to meet with railroad officials to talk about saving the depot, President Susan Sides said.
“It’s been there over 100 years. Why is it a liability now?” Sides said.
Many railroad buffs drive to the depot and park to watch the trains, she said.
The depot stands alone in the “Y” (railroaders call it the “wye”) formed by the tracks going north-south and west just off North Lee Street.
“There is a great deal of interest in that location,” Sides said.
Sides said she has asked the railroad property manager to come and look at the depot and allow foundation members inside to assess its structural integrity.
The building has a high level of protection because of its location in two historic districts. But railroad officials have said as a federally regulated transportation entity, “they do not believe they are subject to local preservation standards,” Morris told City Council.
He said the railroad submitted the demolition application as a courtesy.
No one from the railroad could attend the Historic Preservation Commission meeting this month, so the request was deferred until next month, Morris said.
The city and railroad already have a longstanding dispute over historic Shober Bridge on Ellis Street.
It is unclear to the State Historic Preservation Office whether the railroad is exempt from local zoning ordinances that govern the demolition of historic properties, Crawford said.
“They cite evidence on their behalf,” he said.
Crawford, who is not an attorney, said he is aware of certain circumstances where a railroad can opt out of local zoning. But different courts have ruled different ways, he said.
“It may have to be moved in order to be saved,” he said.
Ultimately, the value of the freight depot will be determined by the community, Crawford said.
“How much does it matter to the city, Historic Salisbury and the N.C. Transportation Museum?” he said.
Moving the large building would be a massive, and expensive, undertaking, Sides said. “And where would you put it?”
Sides said she is not aware of any private group interested in buying, moving or restoring the depot.
Historic Salisbury Foundation feels a responsibility to protect the building, she said.
“It is railroad history, and Salisbury and Spencer are certainly railroad communities,” Sides said.
The Historic Salisbury Foundation offices are located in the 1908 passenger depot, which is replicated in the Smithsonian.
“We are well-respected in the railroad community for our preservation efforts with railroad buildings,” Sides said. “It is a huge responsibility.”
Historic preservationists across the state will watch with interest to see how the conflict plays out, Morris said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.