City lifts historic landmark moratorium after approving clarifying changes
By Natalie Anderson
SALISBURY — City Council members on Tuesday lifted the six-month moratorium on designating historic structures with landmark status after approving changes made to the existing land development ordinance.
In March, City Council members enacted a six-month moratorium on granting the status to local properties to further clarify what qualifies as a landmark property in the city’s ordinances. Council members voiced concerns with the 50% property tax deferral accompanying the landmark status serving as the only incentive for the requests. Additionally, another concern was needed reassurance that certain neighborhoods aren’t being overlooked that could benefit from the protection such a status gives the property.
Mayor Karen Alexander and council members Brian Miller and David Post voted in favor of the moratorium. Council member Tamara Sheffield and Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins voted against it. Sheffield and Heggins argued the vote was a “moot point” since city staff planned to address concerns with the ordinance anyway.
Since then, city officials have received input from local stakeholders in the historic preservation community to draft revisions and amendments to the ordinance on the status of the city’s historic landmarks. The Planning Board approved the revised ordinance last week.
With the proposed changes, applicants would seek designation in one of two categories. The “property” categorization includes any building, structure, location, district, or object that may or may not be listed on the National Register of Historic Places that is an “excellent example of historic resources and recognized for its architectural integrity.”
Meanwhile, a new “cultural” categorization will include structures that otherwise may not have been eligible but still speak to the cultural heritage of the city. Some properties that could fall into this category include schools, churches, art centers, theaters, entertainment halls, stores and businesses. Other eligible structures include those “able to provide physical records of experience among particular ethnic groups” and sites representative of or associated with particular social, ethnic or economic groups during a certain time period.
Catherine Garner, the city’s former senior planner, has assisted with revisions following her departure in February. During Tuesday’s meeting, she referenced the city’s attempt years ago to designate the Chestnut Hill community with the landmark status before ultimately being told not enough of the structural integrity was left. But under the new cultural designation, she said it could be more feasible.
All properties with either designation would be eligible for up to 50% in tax exemption and be required to obtain a certificate of appropriateness prior to any work. Property owners would still be subject to a visit to the Historic Preservation Commission before making any changes to portions of the property deemed a landmark.
Mayor Karen Alexander requested city staff make it clear in the application packet that the tax exemption is only incumbent on the property owner’s maintenance of the landmark. Garner said properties must undergo the same process to de-list the property if conditions are not met. Owners with the tax exemption are required to renew it through the local tax office each year.
HPC Chair Andrew Walker spoke during the public hearing, telling council members they should not anticipate seeing a flood of applications due to the lengthy and rigorous process required. He also said the math is clear on the economic benefits resulting from historic preservation. Garner echoed the same.
“I feel confident saying this is a good return on your investment in this community,” Garner said.
Eugene Goetz also spoke about the intense process as he is working to designate his home, the Scales-Grubb House, located at 126 E. Steele St. Goetz said a lot of historic structures are built with wood, which requires almost weekly maintenance. For that reason, the tax exemption is helpful, he added.
HPC member Sue McHugh said the commission went through a lot of hard work to ensure the ordinance was fair to all parties and all of the Salisbury community.
Sheffield said the ordinance now reads more clearly, and she likes the cultural designation as it allows “opportunity for the solo artist to perform.”
The ordinance now calls for a pre-application to be submitted to the city’s development services to begin the process of approval or denial by the HPC. If approved, a report is submitted to the state’s Historic Preservation Office for the required 30-day comment review. The state office does not provide a recommendation, but instead ensures all criteria are met.
Garner said the pre-application period used to determine whether the applicant can follow through on the process should alleviate concerns with the program’s accessibility in the community.
Council members questioned whether the landmark status can be granted in or out of designated historic district. Garner said it would be up to council’s discretion.
To date, about half a dozen properties have received the designation since the program’s inception in 2017. The moratorium was enacted after council members approved the status for homes at 124 Ellis St. and 619 South Main St. in February.
Also at the meeting:
• Council approved the voluntary annexation of 8.8 acres owned by PFJ, Southeast, LLC, which comprises two parcels located near Peeler Road. The current tax value is $2.9 million, with $20,935 of that estimated to be received in property tax revenue in the 2022-23 fiscal year.
• Council members approved the rezoning of 1.09 acres located at 120 Dollie Circle, which is in the 4000 block of South Main Street, from light industrial zoning to corridor mixed-use to allow for expansion on a single-family home.
• Council members approved an application to the 2021 North Carolina Governor’s Highway Safety Program for a grant in the amount of $25,000 for Salisbury Police to provide overtime and additional patrols for “high-crash” and speeding locations.
• The council approved a $34,022 application for a U.S. Department of Justice Assistance Grant, with Salisbury Police to receive $22,828 and the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office to receive $11,194. Salisbury Police will use the grant to replace current duty pistols that have reached the end of the useful lives.
• Council members voted to extend a right-of-way use permit in the 100 block of South Lee Street and the 200 block of East Innes Street for work being performed at 201 East Innes St. until Aug. 10.
• Council members approved a budget ordinance amendment to appropriate $290,000 from the water and sewer fund cover the cost of a $580,000 project for construction of the Peeler Road Water Main extension project. Pilot Travel Centers, LLC, has requested the city install a water main to continue serving the existing commercial development near the Interstate 85 interchange. The developer has provided the remaining 50% match for the project.
• Another approved budget ordinance appropriates an additional $100,000 for paving in an existing $388,993 contract with NJR Group, which was approved in December to mill and pave various city streets. The project includes West 11th Street from North Main Street to Jackson Street; Clubhouse Drive, from Jackson Street to Confederate Avenue; Filbert Street, from Roy Street to Willow Street; and Roy Street, from Old West Innes to Filbert Street.
• Council members approved a resolution of a memo of agreement between the state and local governments on proceeds related to the settlement of opioid litigation. North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein has directed 15% of those funds to go to the state, with lawmakers having the authority to appropriate funds to address the epidemic. Local governments will receive 80%, and the remaining 5% will go into an incentive fund for any county or municipality with at least 30,000 residents based on 2019 population totals.
• City Council approved resolutions to transfer ownership of retired Salisbury Police K-9s. The resolutions state police dog Arnie will be transferred to Rebecca Markas, Zuul will be transferred to Southern Police Canine, Inc. and Zeus will be transferred to Sgt. Justin Crotty.