Monday, January 24, 2011

Threats to historic buildings - from the government

The owner of the landmark P&N Railway Depot (above) wants to demolish it rather than meet city's code demands.

You may have read the op-ed I did in November ("City may seek landmark demolition"), pointing to an unintended consequence of the city's new non-residential building code – several demolition orders going out to designated historic landmarks that weren't in good repair.

Or maybe you caught the WFAE report last week on the Davis General Merchandise store, a century old historic landmark which has been ordered to make repairs, and whose aging outbuildings were ordered demolished if repairs weren't made.

Yes, this is yet another example of your city government and city elected officials being oblivious to the value of old buildings and historic buildings – and not just landmarks – when they adopt city policy. They're not necessarily hostile, just oblivious to the issue. Witness the happy ease with which planners and council members adopted zoning standards for transit-station areas that allow buildings so tall they'll alter the property value landscape, making smaller older buildings in places such as NoDa worth so little compared to the land they're on that owners won't even blink before razing them for towers.

As today's Observer editorial ("Historic landmarks? City turns blind eye") points out, City Council members say they didn't even discuss, when talking about the proposed ordinance last spring, what its effect might be on historic buildings. That's telling.

Walter Abernethy, the city's code enforcement director, says the issue did come up during stakeholder meetings before the ordinance was proposed. But the ordinance has little in it to protect landmark buildings.

Ted Alexander, with Preservation North Carolina, points out that PNC has covenants on the Davis store to protect it – though whether that could prevent demolition is, for now, an open question. (I've asked Ted but haven't heard back yet.) And it's important to remember that the city hasn't ordered demolition of the store and isn't pushing for it. It just wants repairs, which owner Silas Davis would have to pay for. Davis, when I talked to him Friday, was irate about the whole situation and said he didn't have the money for the repairs.

But as the editorial points out, it's the historic old Thrift depot that faces the more immediate threat. Its owner, CSX railway, would prefer not to spend what it would require to bring the building up to code. It's asking for a demolition permit. Because it's a landmark, the county historic landmarks commission can delay the demo for up to a year, but can't prevent demolition.

A few N.C. municipalities have gotten special legislation to let them absolutely forbid demolition in some selected cases. New Bern, for instance, can forbid demolition in its historic districts, although there are some procedural hoops everyone has to jump through.

Is the city's oblivion toward historic landmarks due in part to the governmental organization that has the landmarks commission lodged as part of the county government? Possibly. But notice that the Historic District Commission (not the same as the landmarks commission but with some similarities), is part of the city's planning department.


Anonymous said...

The answer to that last question is painfully obvious. It's not just historical places or landmarks. The city & county governments are absolutely oblivious to anything that does not come from the mouth of a developer. You posted several months ago that city council members have changed their votes to pro-developer stances after campaign donations as little as $1,000. Simply put, if you aren't a developer, the local government couldn't care less about you.

JAT said...

Whoa -- we knocked down Charlottetown Mall with a CITY SUBSIDY in order to replace it with city staff-favored development. Charlottetown was only the oldest air conditioned, enclosed mall in the SE.

One man's trash etc. but the Uptown crowd will tax away YOUR treasure in order to knock down THEIR trash.

Michael said...

Just stick a bronze plaque in the sidewalk saying "something significant used to be here" like are scattered all over uptown.

Bréanainn Séaghdha said...

Thankfully we saved buildings like the Dunhill Hotel. It is sad that we did away with so many other buildings that were worth while to save and now we are left bickering over abandoned shacks and big box stores. Maybe we should think about building things in the future that are architecturally timeless and high quality. Otherwise, in 30 years, people will be trying to save strip malls and gas stations for the mere fact that they're 60 years old and nobody spent the time or money to build something a little more attractive.

Anonymous said...

My dad used to catch the train, at that station, to go "court" my mom, in Hickory Grove. Wish I had money to save it.

Anonymous said...

I would love to see the small bldgs in NoDa remain but how do you maximize ridership and justify the costs of the N line if theres no density?? I dont see how we can have both.

Anonymous said...

As long as there are single-family homes in NoDa, adjoining commercial buildings will have limits on their height. The zoning (MUDD) used for IKEA actually would allow more height and bulk than transit-station areas, since transit-area zoning (TOD) requires a height plane measured from adjoining single-family zoning (R-3 thru -8).

Anonymous said...


The answer is in your wallet.