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Historic roof replacement on hold as city commission looks at guidelines

SALISBURY — Under the Historic Preservation Commission’s guidelines for historic buildings, roofing should be replaced with “closely imitated historic roofing materials appropriate to the structure” and cost cannot factor in approval. The commission has heard two applicants recently seeking to replace roofs in the historic district with lower-cost asphalt shingles.

The commission tabled Holly Appleton’s request to replace her tin roof on Ellis Street after it recommended she look into finding a contractor through the Historic Salisbury Foundation. At last Thursday’s meeting, the commission decided to table Jesusa Cabagnot’s application after discussing the denial of a slate roof replacement.

Commission members said that because the applicant’s choice of material was not the same, they could not approve it. Both applicants said replacing their roofs with the same material or synthetic material was an expense they could not afford.

Chairman Andrew Walker asked the Historic Salisbury Foundation and city staff to revisit the guidelines after tabling Cabagnot’s request for her North Main Street home. He said this is a big issue and the commission is trying to be equitable.

Barb Sorel, interim executive director of the Historic Salisbury Foundation, said she understands both sides: historic preservation and cost. She said both slate and pressed-tin roofs are expensive.

Walker said the roof cases coming before the commission have been coincidental, and generally the commission hears few such cases.

Catherine Clifton, the city’s staff liaison to the Historic Preservation Commission, said it is likely recent extreme rains have been a factor in the number of roof cases that have came before the commission.

Cabagnot said after recent hurricanes, her slate roof began to leak.

Walker said slate and tin roofs can last 50 to 75 years.

Commission member Elizabeth Trick said at Thursday’s meeting that if a slate roof is leaking, it’s best to take off that section and do work below it. She explained slate can last more than 100 years, but a contractor would have to take off the slate carefully and not step on it because it is fragile. That increases the cost of labor.

Walker said for the Ellis Street home, the foundation has found someone who can work on difficult roofs.

While discussing Appleton’s application, both William James and Sue McHugh spoke of the consequences of denying requests to replace roofs. McHugh said the city may start to see the demolition of older homes. James said the neighborhoods have a reputation of being money sinkholes.

Greg Rapp, with Wallace Realty, spoke at Thursday’s meeting as the commission considered Cabagnot’s request.

“If the word gets out that the HPC is handing out basically, what I consider, financial death sentences to current homeowners, it’s very likely its going to impact the marketability of the historic districts and its nearby occupants,” he said.

He said Cabagnot’s North Main Street home has a tax value of $84,000. She had gotten estimates of $50,000 for a new slate roof.

Walker told Clifton and the commission that they needed to do something about the guidelines and to think outside the box. He said other cities across the country may have some solutions.

Clifton said she would look at economic hardship ordinances and speak to the city attorney to figure out something that is right for Salisbury to address maintaining historic properties that’s not detrimental.

Clifton said since the meeting, she and staff members have been looking into procedures of other municipalities and are looking to the State Historic Preservation Office for advice.

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