Planners to tour historic areas

Published 11:24 pm Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Historic: St. Mary of the Presentation Catholic Church on South Broad Street in downtown is in the Historic Conservation Overlay District. The district, including the Broad Street area, is under review by the Planning Commission.

Members of the Planning Commission will be taking tours through areas of downtown that have been recommended for removal from the city’s Historic Conservation Overlay District.

That was the consensus during a Tuesday meeting of the commission’s ordinance subcommittee. The four-member subcommittee will go on the tours two at a time with city staff members.

The historic district’s boundaries have been under review since last year, when a Pinner Street homeowner wanted to put vinyl siding on his home and was shot down by the Historic Landmarks Commission, which regulates substantial exterior changes to buildings in the historic district.

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City Council later overturned that decision, initiated a study of the historic district and sent the matter to Planning Commission.

The issue boils down to balancing historic regulations with property improvements, members of the ordinance subcommittee agreed Tuesday. Many times, improvements to a property would be cheaper if owners didn’t have to comply with the stringent requirements expected in the district.

“There are some areas that are more transitional in nature,” said Cindy Taylor, assistant director of planning. “Some of those areas have kind of lost their historical significance.”

Staff members developed a list of six areas proposed for deletion from the historic district. The six areas are:

  • The Katherine Street area. “It’s just kind of over there by itself,” Taylor said.
  • The Mahan and Church streets area. First Baptist Church Mahan Street owns much of the property, Taylor said, so there are few houses.
  • The Central, Hill, Grayson and Pinner streets area. “Some of that area, over a period of time, has started to lose its historic distinction,” Taylor said. She also noted the area was determined by the state not to be able to stand on its own as a state-listed historic district, but rather had to be merged with the downtown district to qualify.
  • The Jackson Street area.
  • The North, Chestnut and Pine streets area. Except for Macedonia A.M.E. Church, “everything else is pretty standard,” Taylor said.
  • The South Broad and Gittings streets area. ”Most of the houses are more recent vintage,” Taylor said.

The Historic Landmarks Commission agreed that the Mahan and Jackson street areas could be deleted from the district, Planning director Scott Mills said. They also wanted everything that fronts on Broad Street to stay in the district, but agreed the rest of that area could go.

Aside from the Broad Street change, “staff stands by the recommendations we previously made,” Mills said.

Richard Bowie of the TerryPeterson Companies, who was present at the meeting, called historic districts “a tool to prevent economic development and redevelopment.”

“If staff wants to get some of these out of here, they truly ought to consider that,” he added.

Subcommittee member Arthur Singleton suggested taking a tour of the areas marked for deletion from the district.

Mills agreed to set the tours up, but suggested they be done two at a time so that the meetings don’t have to be advertised and open to the public, which would require providing enough transportation for all comers.

The tours will be conducted over the next month, and the subcommittee will discuss the issue again next month.