City staff members say $800 fee for historic landmark applications likely to be reduced

Published 9:14 pm Thursday, December 9, 2021

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — City staff confirmed to the Historic Preservation Commission on Thursday that they’re working to lower a fee for historic landmark applications that’s higher than a number of other North Carolina cities.

Last month, HPC members learned the city added into the 2021-22 budget an $800 charge for historic landmark applications and voiced concerns it is too steep. It’s the first time a fee has been charged for such applications, and city staff says it matches the rezoning request rate since it involves a similar process.

City Planner Emily Vanek presented commission members with the fees charged by other North Carolina cities, with only Durham charging more than Salisbury — $1,400 per application. Raleigh charges $321, Asheville charges $500, Hickory charges $51 and Chapel Hill charges $400.

Commission Chair Andrew Walker asked about the costs involved in the application process. Vanek said aside from staff involvement, two notices must be published in the Post at a cost totaling about $300, which is the same process followed for rezoning requests. The fee charged for rezoning requests also was increased in the 2021-22 budget to $800 after being set at $600 in previous budgets. Revenue from both fees are added to the city’s general fund.

Vanek added it’s difficult to know the level of staff involvement needed for such applications. Planning Director Hannah Jacobson said it was likely set too high and staff plan to recommend a change to the fee early next year when department heads are tasked with submitting their annual budgets.

Jacobson confirmed to the Post the only pending application is from HPC member Eugene Goetz, whose fee was waived because his application was in progress when a moratorium was implemented earlier this year. Jacobson said no one else has contacted the city for the pre-application discussion now required before submitting landmark applications, and she doesn’t anticipate charging applicants that fee before a new proposed rate is implemented.

Following a question from Walker, Jacobson also said the city typically receives between five and 10 rezoning requests each year.  By contrast, only around half a dozen landmark applications have been approved since the program’s inception in 2017.

Walker said the Salisbury City Council should be pushing harder for historic landmarks if they’re committed to historic preservation. He added there shouldn’t be a fee associated at all. He also referenced Mayor Pro Tem Tamara Sheffield’s comments in an article published by the Post on Nov. 30 where she said council members’ lack of knowledge about the fee is a result of not evaluating the annual budget in enough detail.

“I think it’s a big disincentive for people if we’re charging $800,” Walker said. “It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous.”

In other business at the meeting:

• HPC members discussed several clarifying changes to the historic design standards that will be subject to City Council approval. Among those changes is clarification regarding appropriate paint colors, limited use of stamped concrete driveways and greater flexibility for replacing windows.

• HPC members were informed of, but not required to vote on, the demolition of two homes on the National Register of Historic Places that have been deemed uninhabitable by the city’s code enforcement department. The homes are located at 610 Park Ave. and 630 South Main St., and demolitions are scheduled to occur in 90 days. HPC member Steve Cobb, who’s also a member of the Historic Salisbury Foundation, said he walked through the interior of the home located at 610 Park Ave. and it can’t be salvaged due to significant damage from termites. The Historic Salisbury Foundation also had an interest in buying the home at 630 South Main St., he added, but was unable to agree on a price point with the owners. Demolitions are also subject to City Council approval.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.