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City will consider moratorium on new local historic landmarks

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The Salisbury City Council on Tuesday will consider putting a temporary halt to giving new structures “historic landmark status” because of proposed policy changes.

A public hearing for three houses was held Tuesday, but additional public comments can be sent to Salisbury City Planner Catherine Garner at catherine.garner@salisburypost.com. Final action will be taken at the Feb. 2 city council meeting.

The two houses seeking the special landmark status include the Moore House, located at 124 S. Ellis St., and the Napoleon Bonaparte McCanless House, located at 619 S. Main St.. The Edgar and Madge Temple House, located at 1604 Statesville Blvd., already has the local landmark status but is requesting to be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. 

The special status comes with a tax abatement. Current state law says owners of local historic landmarks are eligible for a 50% annual property tax deferral as long as the property’s significant historic or architectural features are maintained. Council member David Post expressed concern that the incentive for seeking the landmark status is only for the tax abatement. And in a historic town where most houses could be designated historic, enough tax abatement could really harm the city’s budget, Post said.

Post suggested a moratorium last year before the pandemic arrived in Rowan County. A public hearing for a moratorium on the status was canceled then, but following the presentation for the three houses and discussion about the intent behind seeking the historic status, another public hearing for a moratorium will be placed on the Feb. 2 agenda.

“The complaint has nothing to do with the houses themselves,” Post told the Post on Wednesday. “I don’t like the incentive to be the tax incentive. Salisbury is so old, you could virtually go through all of them. It’s unimaginable how many could qualify if they wanted to.”

Garner told the Post on Wednesday that, beyond the tax benefits, people seek landmark status because it brings a level of protection to the property. Any changes to any parts of the property with the status require approval from the Historic Preservation Commission to ensure its special significance and integrity is not harmed.

Additionally, Post said the purpose of holding a public hearing to consider a moratorium is so that council members can understand all the available options for policy changes.

He added that an issue of racial equity arises since most of the houses designated the landmark status are among people who have the resources and the right people to advocate for their request, which could hinder low-income individuals and families from making similar requests. For example, he said, houses located along Monroe or Horah Streets have similar architectural styles and could qualify.

One of the two houses requesting the special designation is the Moore House, a shingle-style house built in 1892. If approved at the next city council meeting, it would be the sixth local historic landmark and third within a national historic district.

The owners of the house, Robert Lambrecht and Jon Planovsky, bought the house in 2007. They have applied for the status based on two criteria that include properties associated with significant persons from the past as well as properties “that embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction.”

City staff determined the Moore House was significant due to the cultural importance of Beulah Stewart Moore, who was the first woman to run for mayor in Salisbury in 1921. Moore was also a writer, artist and civic activist. City documents state she rallied the Travelers’ Club at the time to support the establishment of the Rowan Public Library, and a plaque at the library was erected in 2009 to honor her efforts.

Staff also determined the house possesses integrity based on its design, setting, workmanship, materials, feeling and/or association. The house’s design is heavily influenced by the work of architect Frederick G. S. Bryce. Additionally, the landmark report states that Moore copied Bryce’s “Five Thousand Dollar House” based on an advertisement she saw in 1892.

Based on its location, the house’s existing landscaping shields the property from surrounding commercial property. The exterior of the granite and wood house totals approximately 3,580 square feet and sits on a .54-acre lot. Some interior parts of the house would be designated with local historic landmark status as well. City staff determined the house is a great example of an original shingle-style design with minimal exterior modifications since the historical period of its construction.

Another house discussed for the special status is the Napoleon Bonaparte McCanless House, a second-empire style home built in 1897. Though the house is not within a historic district, it was individually listed on the National Register in 2014.

The Historic Salisbury Foundation purchased the house in 2019 from Livingstone College after William Peeler Raykes of Davidson County sold the property to the school. Karen C. Lilly-Bowyer applied for the landmark status.

The Historic Preservation Commission in December determined the property had special significance for its architectural and cultural importance and because it retains most aspects of its integrity. McCanless was a local entrepreneur with heavy involvement in the organization, funding and/or building of many ventures including Kesler Cotton Mill, Vance Cotton Mill, Doggins/Coggin Mines Company, Salisbury Savings Bank, Peoples National Bank and the Empire Block and Hotel.

Only the main house and semi-attached kitchen on the .38-acre land would receive the status as the interior has undergone various remodeling efforts. However, the remaining character-defining features of the colonial revival style interior would be preserved through the convents that the Historic Salisbury Foundation will establish before the property is sold.

The last house discussed at the meeting is the Edgar and Madge Temple House, a 1936 Spanish Colonial Revival style house with a strong hacienda/ranch form. The house was Salisbury’s first local landmark in 2017, and if approved by the National Parks Service, it will be an individual listing on the historic register. Included in the request for nomination is the detached garage and chicken house.

The request at the meeting was for a public hearing to provide comments to both the State Historic Preservation Office and the National Register Advisory Committee. The Historic Preservation Commission approved the recommendation for nomination at its January meeting, Garner said.

“The benefit that the local landmark status provides for properties that are outside of the historic district is that there’s a level of protection against inappropriate changes,” Garner said at the meeting. “So they get a little bit in the taxes, the property taxes, and I understand that we don’t want the ‘death by a thousand paper cuts’ to the city’s budget through property tax abatement. But for properties such as this, where there is no protection through the national register, then this provides a way for the property to be protected in perpetuity as long as it meets its landmark designation.”

At the city council meeting, council member Brian Miller shared Post’s concern, stating that the city should implement a policy for what qualifies the houses that receive local historic landmark status. Perhaps a policy should be considered, he said, that would broaden what qualifies in a historic district beyond houses so that incentives could be created for people to invest in the property, via the use of historic tax credits, and increase its value instead of only receiving a tax break. He also said an assessment of other properties that could be considered could result in the creation of an additional historic district.

“If I were a property owner, I wouldn’t want to just do my house. I’d want to do the neighborhood to whatever extent that I can because it would be a better outcome for the neighbor,” Miller said.

Garner told the Post that while tax credits are available for income-producing properties, such as rental or commercial buildings, a property that is both a local historic landmark and on the National Historic Register could potentially be eligible for both tax deferral and historic tax credits if someone was interested in a larger rehabilitation project.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246. 

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