City says Historic Preservation Commission guidelines attempt to treat applicants as fairly as possible
SALISBURY — Anyone who lives in Salisbury’s historic districts must go before the Historic Preservation Commission for approval on changes in design or materials, an addition or a demolition.
The historic districts include Brooklyn South Square, Ellis Street Graded School, North Main Street, West Square and downtown. Everyone who lives or owns a business in one of those districts has a local historic overlay zoning.
Because of state law, if a city has a preservation commission and local districts, it must have guidelines to judge everyone fairly, according to Catherine Garner, the city’s development services specialist.
Property owners have to obtain a certificate of appropriateness when they are considering exterior changes. The certificate costs nothing if applied for before the change. There are four levels of review required depending on the project.
Routine maintenance and repairs don’t require a certificate, which can include repainting with the same color and paint scheme or repairing or replacing exterior lighting fixtures without changes to material, location or color.
Minor work that is approved by the city staff requires a certificate of appropriateness. An example is installing gutters and downspouts painted to match the house or the trim, as long as no significant architectural features are damaged or removed.
The minor works committee can also approve projects such as re-roofing a house with similar materials in a different color if approved by the commission as appropriate to the house. The committee can also approve structures added to backyards that meet design guidelines.
Major work requires a COA and goes before the Historic Preservation Commission for approval. That includes changes to historic roof forms, such as pitch or materials, new construction or additions to primary buildings.
“Living in the historic district is always a unique situation in terms of the process and the maintenance requirements that an older home anywhere requires,” Garner said. “They just need a little more love than others.”
Garner said the city will work with an applicant as much as possible. Applicants can include people coming to the staff for a certificate of appropriateness or people who see others in the historic district making changes to their property that may not follow design guidelines.
Sometimes applicants come to the commission after the fact. Garner said property owners sometimes didn’t know about the guidelines or they wanted to see what they could get away with. There is a $250 fee for after-the-fact approval of projects.
City Code Services Manager Michael Cotilla, whose role is enforcement, said if property owners do not comply, it is a zoning violation, which comes with a fine starting at $50, then goes to $100 and $250 to $250 a day. After that, the case will go to a collection agency.
Cotilla said the city has not gotten to the point of going to a collection agency.
“We go above and beyond to try to help these folks,” Cotilla said.
Garner recommends anyone who lives in a historic districts contact the city to ensure they are doing the right thing.
“HPC has a reputation of being a ‘no’ committee, and I think that’s very unfair,” Garner said. “HPC works very hard. The commissioners work very hard to find a way to get an applicant what they want within the context of these guidelines. I would much rather someone call me in advance because I do not enjoy enforcement. Nobody does.”
The Historic Salisbury Foundation helps applicants in an advisory position, according to director Sada Stewart.
“We are two different entities, but because we’re familiar with the guidelines HPC has to follow, we are able to help people find the materials or find guidance in how to adhere to regulations that HPC has to enforce,” Stewart said.
The North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office can also be used as a resource.
Salisbury is a leader in preservation, Garner said.
“We are in a great position to take advantage of the investment people have made before and the character of our town,” Garner said. When you’ve come to Salisbury, you know you have arrived. “You’re not in Anywhere, USA.”
The historic fabric is what makes the city unique, Stewart said.
“As a community, Salisbury has identified historic preservation as kind of an anchoring feature,” Stewart said. “I think what sets Salisbury apart from a lot of other communities and smaller towns in North Carolina is we have so much historic character and fabric that gives us a lot of uniqueness.”
Andrew Walker, chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission, said the guidelines are to preserve the integrity of historic Salisbury and people recognize the historic charm, which is why they come to town.
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