City panel discusses making historic landmark program more inclusive

City panel discusses making historic landmark program more inclusive
February 02
06:30 2017



City Council members discussed how to make Winston-Salem’s historic landmarks more inclusive during a general government committee meeting.

There are currently more than 130 city designated landmarks, but few of them specifically reflect African-American history. This disparity came up when the last landmark, a house originally owned by businessman John L. Gilmer, was approved by the council last month. Council Member Derwin Montgomery was absent for that meeting but said if he had been there, he would’ve voted against it.

Local landmarks are eligible for a 50-percent property tax deferral, but must maintain their historic character, which often makes repair costs more expensive. Changes to a local landmark must be approved by the county’s Historic Resource Commission, which is an appointed citizen commit-tee.

Montgomery voiced several concerns during the committee meeting late last month. He said a residence does not have as much tax and community benefit as a commercial property would. He was also concerned that, over time, the tax break received may be far more than the property owner puts into maintaining it. He suggested putting a sunset clause on the tax break and having home-owners reapply for it.

He said the advantages of landmark status, which property owners apply for, is not equitable in all communities. He used the example of the home he lives in, which was built with bricks from African-American brick maker George Black. He said since his property value is lower than the Gilmer house, he would receive less from the tax break.

“It’s unfair because of the community I live in. If I applied for the same abatement, I would not get the benefit,” said Montgomery. ”Therefore, it is not in my interest, or the people in my neighborhood and community, to apply for such a landmark status because the benefit would be negligible and would not mean anything to that property owner in terms of what they’ve done to that property.”

Other council members had suggestions as well. Robert Clark wanted to make sure property owners were aware of all the restrictions that come with being a landmark. Dan Besse asked staff for ways to do outreach to inform property owners about the program. Jeff Macintosh said that the city might want to consider designated historic districts, not just single landmarks, and having restrictions against demolishing landmarks. John Larson asked staff for ways the city can be proactive in the landmark process to make sure they are “reflective of the broad mosaic of our cultural heritage and wealth.”

Council Member Denise “D.D.” Adams said many landmarks in the black community have already been torn down and the council needs to preserve what’s left.

“We have a lot of signature, iconic buildings and neighborhoods in the African-American community, and the Latino/Hispanic community now, that we need to showcase and we need to let our citizens know we care about it,” she said.

Adams also said she’d like to see more done to denote historic place than the city’s historic markers, which is a separate program with signs that denote historic areas and events, including some buildings and neighborhoods that no longer exist.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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