TAKE 5: Commission helps preserve Sanford's historic places

Jan. 12, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

This week we Take 5 with Liz Whitmore about the work of the Sanford Historic Preservation Commission. A native of Maryland, Whitmore graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in landscape architecture. She began work as a planner in her native state before joining the staff of the City of Sanford in 2004. She's served as the city’s Historic Preservation Planner II since 2008.

Talk about the role the Sanford Historic Preservation Commission provides to the city, especially as it relates to getting recognition in the National Register of Historic Places …

The Historic Preservation Commission can recommend structures and properties be considered to be placed in the National Register of Historic Places. An inventory and study of structures and properties is conducted for their historic, pre-historic, architectural and/or cultural significance. Once the study is completed, the commission can recommend to the Sanford City Council to forward the findings to the National Park Service via the State Historic Preservation Office for areas to be designated as “districts” or individual structures, buildings, sites, areas or objects be designated as “landmarks.”

In addition, the Historic Commission serves an educational purpose by providing information on the city’s website about the National Register of Historic Places, as well as preparing a biannual newsletter to property owners and residents within all five historic districts in the city.

What's the significance of the National Register of Historic Places? What does inclusion in that list mean for a property owner?

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the nation's historic places worthy of preservation. This national program helps coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archaeological resources. To have a structure or property be listed on the National Register of Historic Places is considered an honor. Furthermore, properties on the National Register of Historic Places are eligible for tax credits to encourage their preservation and restoration. For rehabilitations of income-producing historic properties (i.e. commercial or rental residential property) that follow the Secretary of Interiors standards for rehabilitation, a 20 percent state tax credit and a 20 percent federal investment tax credit is available.

In effect, the combined federal/state credits reduce the cost of a certified rehabilitation of an income-producing historic structure by 40 percent. For non-income producing properties (i.e. owner-occupied residential property) there is a 30 percent state tax credit for qualifying rehabilitations of historic structures; however, there is no federal credit for such rehabilitations.

Being listed on the National Register of Historic Places does not place any guidelines or design criteria on the property. Only if a district is designated a local district is it afforded additional guidelines to protect the historic resources.

When it comes to the number of historic properties in the National Register, how do Sanford and Lee County “stack up”? Do we have more than our fair share of historic properties in our five historic districts?

The City of Sanford has five districts that are on the National Register of Historic Places, including Rosemount McIver Park, downtown, Hawkins Avenue, Lee Avenue and East Sanford. These districts encompass 715 historic resources (523 residential properties and 192 commercial properties). Per the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office, a rough average is about 650 historic properties per county in the state; the City of Sanford has 715 historic resources, so Lee County is above average in the number of National Register properties.

Of the five National Register districts, only two have been locally designated as districts by city council — downtown and Rosemount McIver Park. Because it has local zoning overlay authority, the city has local oversight of exterior improvements to properties within those two districts. As such, a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) is required for minor and major work. It should be noted that in general, 85 percent of the work is deemed routine maintenance and no Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) is needed, 10 percent of work done is generally deemed a minor work and a COA can be approved at staff level, and the remaining 5 percent of work done is generally a major work which requires a public hearing before the Historic Preservation Commission.

Per the State Historic Preservation Office, over the past 15 months, the City of Sanford ranked eighth in the number of COAs processed with 101 reviewed, which averages to one COA reviewed every 2.82 business days.

Can you outline the need for, and the process of applying for, a Certificate of Appropriateness? And how are those applications approved?

A COA application can be found online at www.sanfordnc.net/historic_preservation/coa_process or through our office at 226 Carthage St. Minor work projects being proposed can be approved at staff level, with a turnaround of generally one to two days. Major work projects are heard at monthly public hearings held by the seven-member Historic Preservation Commission appointed by the city council.

Completed applications are due three weeks prior to the public hearing to ensure their completeness and afford the opportunity for public notice. The public hearings are quasi-judicial, whereby evidence is taken, applicants and others give testimony and cross examination is allowed of applicants. After all evidence is taken, the Historic Preservation Commission will render its decision by making findings of fact and may approve the COA as submitted, approve with conditions or deny the COA.

How do you go about investigating complaints made about properties within these two local historic districts, and how does that process differ from non-historic districts?

Complaints can be made anonymously by any citizen, or may be noticed by staff members during their weekly inspections of the local districts.

When a complaint is received, staff logs it in and does an onsite investigation of said complaint. Should a violation be validated, a courtesy letter is sent to the property owners asking them to contact the historic preservation office as soon as possible to discuss the potential violation and how best to rectify the situation.

Should the property owners not contact the historic preservation office, a follow-up letter is sent, requesting them to remove the violation within 10 days. If said violation is not removed, they may be subject to fines of $100 a day per violation.

Again, we only issue violations in the local districts of downtown and the Rosemount McIver Park Districts. Properties in the other three National Register Districts or elsewhere in the city are not subject to any local historic guidelines. It should be noted, however, that if someone were to try to take advantage of the historic tax credits program, any changes to their property would be subject to State Historic Preservation Office review.

For more information, contact Whitmore at (919) 775-8239 or by email at liz.whitmore@sanfordnc.net.