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Historic home-fix guides sought

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Monday, July 2, 2018

Maintaining and improving historic properties in Elizabeth City doesn’t come with a guide book, but city officials are working on one.

City staff are crafting guidelines for historic preservation that the Historic Preservation Commission should soon be reviewing, Assistant City Manager Angela Cole and Community Development Director Matthew Schelly told City Council last week. The document should come to council next month, they noted.

Elizabeth City has seven districts with federally recognized historic properties, and a Historic Preservation Commission that oversees historic properties in the Downtown and West Main Street districts.

The HPC also issues “certificates of appropriateness” on whether and how major exterior changes, such as building additions, can be made without ruining a property’s historic character.

However, the city doesn’t have a “playbook” designating which repairs and improvements are appropriate and which aren’t, Cole and Schelly told council.

The city has wanted to craft such a playbook for years, but has lacked the funding to hire an outside consultant to craft that playbook. Former city planner Kaitlen Alcock took on the project before recently leaving for another job, Cole said.

Schelly said the guidelines are meant to provide clarity and certainty to not only historic property owners and real estate brokers, but also city staff and the HPC itself. How historically appropriate a repair or improvement is can be subjective, he explained.

To that point, Cole noted a historic property owner looking to replace old windows might have to match the same style, depending on how “purist” staff or the HPC are about historic preservation.

Cole and Schelly’s presentation led to a brief discussion among city councilors about getting more properties recognized as historic. Councilor Johnnie Walton cited, for example, a historic Elks lodge on Herrington Road.

The city would have to petition the National Historic Register to add any property to the list of federally recognized historic places, an involved but doable process, Cole and Schelly said.

City Manager Rich Olson also told council the guidelines will not add or remove properties from historic districts.

Editor’s note: The draft historic preservation guidelines are attached to this story.

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