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City OKs survey of historic buildings

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The number of historic buildings in Elizabeth City are expected to grow following City Council’s recent decision to approve spending $25,000 to hire a consultant to survey downtown structures.

Council voted unanimously to hire Mary Hanbury to perform the survery, which will update the city's inventory of downtown historic buildings recognized by the National Register of Historic Places.

City staff said last week that her work may cost $25,000 or more, but the updated inventory of historic buildings is needed to make buildings eligible for federal Historic Tax Credits. Those credits help offset the costs of redeveloping downtown buildings, which could help major projects such as a new microbrewery and potential redevelopment of the Southern Hotel.

City staff have also said the survey should lead to more businesses being recognized as historic. The city's current register only counts buildings that were historic as of 1926. Buildings from 1927 to about 1960 could now be considered historic, they said.

Council is hiring Hanbury despite only getting one offer, hers, to conduct the survey. City Planner Kellen Long presented the matter in last week's finance committee meeting. There, she explained the city had solicited applications for the survey twice since late November, and Hanbury was the only vendor to respond.

However, Long presented Hanbury as well-qualified for the work. She reported Hanbury has completed nine nominations to the National Register, plus numerous property surveys and strategic plans for preservation nonprofits. The city of Raleigh hired Hanbury in 2015 to survey nearly 300 properties for the Glenwood Brooklyn Historic District, which was successfully updated, Long said.

In a followup interview this week, Long said Hanbury still needs to sign a contract with the city but, once she does, she should get started within a few days.

Long also said the survey will take about a year to finish, with submissions required to the State Historic Preservation Office and then the National Register. She also said Hanbury's work would only concern structures' exterior, so she likely won't need to contact property owners for her work.

The city is planning to pay for Hanbury's survey through its share of funds held by the Tourism Development Authority. Council has also approved seeking a $5,000 grant through the Rural Center's Rural Economic Development Institute. The institute’s grants are available to communities' whose leaders have completed its training. Assistant City Manager Angela Cole completed the program in 2017, making the city eligible for the grant, a staff memo states.

The grant would help the city cover costs over $25,000, according to the memo.

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