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City aiming for adoption of revised local historic landmark status at July council meeting

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — After months of input from local stakeholders to draft revisions and changes to the city’s historic landmark status ordinance, Planning Director Hannah Jacobson says the process has reached the formal review process.

Adoption of the ordinance could make its way to the city for final approval in July.

Changes to the landmark status within the city’s Land Development Ordinance were sparked by city council’s decision in February to approve a six-month moratorium on designating local structures with the status. The discussion of a moratorium emerged after council members in February approved the status for homes at 124 Ellis St. and 619 South Main St. To date, about half a dozen properties have received the designation since the program’s inception in 2017.

The intent with the moratorium was to set goals, objectives and standards for what qualifies as a landmark property. Council members voiced concerns with the 50% property tax deferral accompanying the landmark status serving as the only incentive for the requests. Additionally, another concern was the potential to use the moratorium to determine or create incentives for investments or capital into historic districts, and a reassurance that certain neighborhoods aren’t being overlooked that could benefit from the protection such a status gives the 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. Sheffield and Heggins argued the vote was a “moot point” since city staff had plans to address concerns with the ordinance anyway.

Since then, city staff have worked with local stakeholders in the historic preservation community, like the Historic Preservation Commission, to propose two categories for the status and make clarifying changes to the overall ordinance.

Planning Director Hannah Jacobson said the process has provided more education for both applicants and reviewers. There have been two sessions with the commission since the council vote, with one open to the public. Locals can visit the Historic Preservation Commission page on the city’s website, or salisburync.gov/Government/City-Council/Boards-and-Commissions/Historic-Preservation-Commission, for a full presentation and proposed ordinance from former Senior Planner Catherine Garner. Garner committed to assisting with the changes before taking a job elsewhere earlier this year.

With the proposed changes, applicants would be seeking designation in one of two categories. The “property” categorization entails any building, structure, site, district or object that may or may not be listed on the National Register of Historic Places that is an “outstanding example of historic resources and is intended to be recognized for its architectural integrity.” Those properties must have “special significance” in at least one of four criterion and “integrity” in all seven related criterion. Criteria relates to location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association.

Jacobson said the previous wording related to the required criteria was vague, and the new draft clarifies how many must be met.

Special significance, defined by the Department of the Interior, can be applied to properties associated with events or notable persons in the community as well as those that yielded or may be likely to yield important information in the community’s history. Additionally, special significance is intended to embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction with high artistic value.

But the draft now includes a second category that’s meant to apply to structures that otherwise may not have been eligible. A “cultural” categorization can apply to buildings, structures, sites, districts or objects important to the culture and diversity of Salisbury and have come to represent a part of the city’s cultural heritage for at least 25 years. Some properties that could fall into this category include schools, churches, art centers, theaters, entertainment halls, stores and businesses. Jacobson said the well-known Dairy Queen on West Innes Street is an example of a property that could qualify within this category with its mid-century architecture and notable “gathering place” status.

Other eligible structures include those “able to provide physical records of experience among particular ethnic groups,” and sites representative of or associated with particular social, ethnic or economic groups during a certain time period.

Properties under the “cultural” category must have special significance in at least one category in addition to integrity in all four categories of location, setting, feeling and association.

While staff looked to other comparable municipalities with similar ordinances to draft revisions, staff looked to ordinances in San Antonio, for example, to formulate the cultural categorization.

All properties with either designation would be eligible for the tax incentive and be required to obtain a certificate of appropriateness prior to any work. Jacobson said property owners would still be subject to a visit to the HPC before making any exterior changes to the property.

“We’re trying to broaden who might be eligible for landmark status,” Jacobson said. “But it is still kind of a difficult process to go through.”

Some applications can span four months, but most take longer due to the extensive research and accompanying documents required. The new ordinance details a similar process followed before the moratorium was enacted, but now calls for a pre-application to be submitted to the city’s Development Services to begin the process of approval or denial by the HPC. If approved, a report is submitted to the State Historic Preservation Office for the required 30-day comment review. The state office does not provide a recommendation, but will deliver comments to Salisbury’s HPC prior to a public hearing. Recommendations from that hearing would be provided to council members, who will hold a public hearing before issuing a final decision.

Jacobson said the draft will be discussed within the Technical Review Committee of the Planning Board later this month, with hopes to have the changes on the agenda for discussion at the July 20 city council meeting. There is, of course, the possibility of further changes and proposals, she added. Ultimately, the draft would be adopted as a text amendment to the existing Land Development Ordinance that relates to local historic landmarks.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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