Why is historic preservation important?
North Carolina cities and towns are increasingly discovering that historic preservation is an effective means of improving quality of life by stabilizing property values and stimulating new investment in older residential neighborhoods and commercial areas. Through relatively low public expenditures, cities and towns have seen a boost to their tax base as preservation efforts stimulate tourism and commercial activity. The improved physical appearance of areas affected by historic preservation is a useful tool in the recruitment of new industry.
What is the difference between a local designation and National Register listing?
There is no direct connection with listing in the National Register of Historic Places and a local designation. The National Register is the nation’s official list of buildings, structures, objects, sites and districts worthy of preservation. It is a federal program administered by the National Park Service in partnership with state and local governments. Once listed on the National Register, the historic landmark property or properties within historic districts become eligible for historic tax credits. It differs from locally designated historic landmarks and districts in that no type of protection or regulation is imposed upon properties by being listed on the National Register.
Are there benefits of owning property in a locally designated Historic District?
Yes. Designation is an honor, indicating the community believes the district deserves recognition and protection. Local Historic District designation has no effect on local property tax rates for property owners within the designated district; however, historic zoning can help stabilize property values by maintaining the neighborhood’s character and it benefits property owners by protecting them from inappropriate changes made by other owners that might destroy the special qualities of the neighborhood.
How are boundaries for a Historic District chosen? My house isn’t particularly old.
The boundaries are drawn to include the buildings and areas of definite historic interest, as well as their immediate surroundings. This particular boundary was drawn based on the original subdivision plats that created some of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. Other properties, which are not of particular historic value, are included in a Historic District because they are of value in establishing the special character of the neighborhood; thus, creating an intact entity.
What is a certificate of appropriateness?
A Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) is the approval granted by the Lexington Planning Board that enables a property owner to make exterior changes including: alteration, restoration, construction, reconstruction, relocation or demolition to a property that is listed as a designated local historic landmark or in a designated local historic district. Once a historic landmark has been designated, owners who wish to make certain kinds of changes to these properties must first have their plans reviewed by the Planning Board and receive a Certificate of Appropriateness.
How do I acquire a Certificate of Appropriateness?
A property owner living in an individual house designated as a landmark or within in a historic district wishing to make changes to the structure or property must first discuss the proposed changes with the planning staff to determine if it is Minor or Major Works. If it is determined to be a Minor Works, the staff will review the application and issue a Certificate of Appropriateness within a few days. If it is a Major Works, the application goes before the Planning Board at the next scheduled meeting date. When the Board meets to consider a Certificate of Appropriateness, impacted property owners bordering the applicant will receive notification letters and be given an opportunity to voice their concerns and opinions at that meeting.
Do all applications for Certificates of Appropriateness require action by the Planning Board?
No. Applications for minor works may be approved by the Director of Business and Community Development or her designee. Examples of minor works include: construction or expansion of a carport, deck, porch, or patio in the rear yard; replacement of existing windows or doors on the rear elevation or on side elevations of interior lots; and replacement of certain items that are missing or deteriorating such as siding and trim, porch floors, ceilings or columns.
How are Minor Works approved?
The Director of Business and Community Development, or her designee, can approve minor works. If staff denies a request, the property owner can appeal to the full Planning Board.
How do I go about getting a Certificate of Appropriateness?
You can get an application for a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) from the Office of Business and Community Development. Once the application is complete, the item will be scheduled before the Planning Board. In accordance with local Design Guidelines and at the meeting, the Board may grant approval to issue a Certificate of Appropriateness for an application, decide to study the matter further, perhaps ask for further information, or deny issuance of a COA. A Certificate of Appropriateness does not replace the need for any other required city permits.
How does the Board determine appropriateness?
The Board has Design Guidelines that it uses as a guide in determining appropriateness. The intent of the Board is not to deny applications, but rather to work with the applicant to make their proposal fit in with the neighborhood and overall district, while meeting the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and the Commission’s Design Guidelines.
What will designation of a local Historic District do to my property values?
We do not know for every individual case; but the evidence from other Historic Districts around the country indicates that property values are generally found to stabilize or increase.
Am I going to have to ask someone before I repaint my house?
No. There are regulations to help maintain the special character and qualities of a Historic District. The Planning Board must issue a Certificate of Appropriateness, based upon local Design Guidelines, before buildings or their appurtenant fixtures may be constructed, altered, demolished or reconstructed; but no permission is required to repaint your house. It is assumed that people will continue to exercise the same good taste they have shown in the past. The Board is available to advise those desiring assistance.
I may want to redesign the interior of my house. Will that require a Certificate of Appropriateness?
No. The Design Guidelines address only with exterior changes. You may make any interior changes you want as long as they are in accordance with standard zoning regulations and building codes of the City of Lexington.
Can I appeal a decision of the Planning Board?
Yes. It may be appealed to the Superior Court of Davidson County.
Who is on the Planning Board?
The Board, appointed by the Mayor and City Council, is composed entirely of Lexington residents. Of the nine Board members, three must have demonstrated special interest and have experience and/or education in history, architecture, archaeology or related fields. Members attend training each year in historic preservation practice and principles.
If there has been previous work done on my house that is not in compliance with Historic Preservation Guidelines, will I be required to change anything?
No. This is an excellent question. The Historic District Ordinance is triggered only when an exterior change is going to occur. The ordinance is not “retroactive,” a common misconception.
What is the procedure if I want to demolish a building on my property?
You must give the Planning Board written notice of any proposed demolition. This serves to provide time (up to 365 days) for the Board to find a way to save a building if it is significant. If the building is not significant, the Board may permit immediate demolition. If, within the authorized period of delay, the Board cannot find an alternative solution satisfactory to you, a record of the historic building and its setting is submitted to the Board and you may remove the structure.
Will I be forced to do extra maintenance on my property?
No. The Planning Board only has authority over proposed exterior changes, not over the routine maintenance or matters covered in the City of Lexington Minimum Housing Code.
Will the controls in the Historic District make it more difficult to sell my property?
No. The neighborhood will be enhanced, and thereby your property as well. Experience with other Historic Districts has shown a strong improvement in the housing market within Historic District areas. There are no limitations set on the sale of property.
Must new buildings in a Historic District be imitations of the nearby or Historic Buildings?
Alterations and new construction must satisfy certain design principles specified in the adopted Design Guidelines. The intent is to make new construction harmonize with the buildings already in the area and to prevent serious incongruities; but there is no intent to prescribe any type of architecture or building style and thereby freeze the area into a particular style or period.
What is a local historic landmark designation?
Landmark designation is an honor that signifies recognition that the property is important to the heritage and character of the community and that its protection enriches all of the community’s residents. A historic landmark designation applies to individual buildings, structures, sites or objects that have been recommended for designation by the Planning Board and then approved by City Council with adoption of a designation ordinance. Owners may apply for an annual 50% local property tax deferral for as long as the property’s important historical features are retained.
A Historic District seems like a lot of trouble. Is it worth it?
There will actually be very little inconvenience caused to the average property owner; and as a result, the entire Historic District will be maintained and improved as a desirable place to live and as a unique area of special interest. A Historic District will help us maintain the special contribution that an area’s historic architecture makes to the City of Lexington. A richness and diversity are added to our lives by the presence of a Historic District—a living example of some of the finer elements of our American heritage.