Council informally approves landmark status moratorium despite concern it’s a ‘moot point’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 17, 2021

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — City council members on Tuesday all but guaranteed a six-month moratorium on granting historic landmark status, with two council members arguing it’s a “moot point,” since city staff plan to address concerns with the ordinance anyway.

The discussion about a possible moratorium emerged after requests in January for local historic landmark status for homes at 124 Ellis St. and 619 South Main St. Both requests were approved at the Feb. 2 meeting.

Council members have voiced concerns that the 50% property tax deferral that comes with landmark status is the only incentive for the requests. Other concerns voiced at the Feb. 2 meeting included the potential to use the moratorium to determine or create incentives for investments or capital into historic districts and ensuring certain neighborhoods aren’t being overlooked that could benefit from the protection such a status gives the property. A moratorium on new historic landmarks would be used to set goals, objectives and standards for what qualifies as a landmark property.

Mayor Karen Alexander, along with council members Brian Miller and David Post, voted in favor of the moratorium, while council member Tamara Sheffield and Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins opposed.

The final 3-2 vote requires a second reading at the next council meeting, said city attorney Graham Corriher.

Much of the discussion centered on whether implementing the moratorium was necessary since city staff have laid out a plan to further examine and make necessary changes to the program and plan to do so with or without a moratorium.

Senior Planner Catherine Garner set an estimated timeline for the moratorium, with the first two months allowing staff time to talk with the State Historic Preservation Office and other municipalities with landmark status programs before drafting an initial proposal. Garner said Tuesday that staff are currently making progress with these first few steps.

The third and fourth months, Garner said, would allow the Historic Preservation Commission to work with community stakeholders in reviewing and refining the proposals, while the last two months would allow staff to present findings to city council and update the Land Development Ordinance accordingly.

Overall, Garner said Tuesday, the plan as proposed would give staff more direction when such requests come in, and it makes clear what the city is looking for by the time the requests make their way to the city council.

Both Heggins and Sheffield asked if the moratorium was necessary, especially since the city has not seen significant demand for obtaining the status since the program was established in 2017, and since there are no pending applications, according to Garner.

Garner said the moratorium isn’t necessary for staff to continue work on the program, but it’s up to council members whether they want to continue accepting applications while they review and modify the program.

Garner added that some applications can span four months, but most take longer due to the extensive research and accompanying documents required.

Council member David Post said the worst thing the council could do is have applications pending as the city changes its rules and guidelines. He added that a formal moratorium puts the public on notice in terms of filing an application.

Sheffield added that she didn’t want the city to send the message that it’s not in support of the program. Her intent when suggesting the moratorium in January was to “pump the brakes on the conversation,” but she’s unsure it’s needed if the staff can follow the timeline regardless.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.