Waxhaw commissioners say they want to preserve their town’s identity by creating a historic district. Homeowners wonder, however, why government officials want to tell them how to manage their property.
The issue centers around the town’s proposed historic district, which would require residents to follow strict guidelines about what repairs or improvements they make to their houses. The guidelines would ban vinyl siding, synthetic windows and synthetic shingles and require residents to use approved materials. The Historic Preservation Committee expects to vote on the proposed guidelines in January, before the town council holds a series of public hearings.
“I just feel these committees are cutting into my freedom of owning my home,” Michelle Holston, owner of the McDonald Hotel, said.
Built in 1912, the hotel was a symbol of Colonial Revival architecture and continued operating until 1946. Now Holston, a 36-year resident of the town, lives there with her family and doesn’t want the town telling her how to maintain it.
“When I bought it, the hotel was in such bad disrepair nobody wanted it, with leaks and fleas everywhere,” Holston said. “Now my home has been recommended as a historic site. Nobody asked me (before doing that). I feel it’s inappropriate.”
In 1991, Waxhaw received a designation for the historic district from the National Register of Historic Places. Besides documenting the district’s historic status, the designation allows property owners to apply for state and federal tax credits for renovation or restoration projects. That designation however does not require the property owners to maintain the historic look of the structures.
Wanting to preserve what they consider the town’s unique character, the council in 2009 started working on its own version of a historic district, including new zoning ordinances.
In December 2009, the town hired consulting firm Circa Inc. for $7,550 to update the 1991 inventory of historic homes and recommend a boundary. The town also paid Hill Studios $27,585 to create design guidelines governing changes to properties in the district.
The list includes properties such as:
• The Heath-Massey House. Built in 1898, the Victorian-style home was the first to receive electricity in Waxhaw. Charles Massey, the homeowner’s son-in-law, later represented Union County as a state senator.
• The Duncan McDonald House, a home built in 1888 by the town’s first postmaster and considered one of the oldest structures in the area.
Some residents are less than excited about the new preservation rules.
“(The) Waxhaw Historic Preservation Committee is a special-interest committee given power to write guidelines over our properties. This is wrong,” resident Brenda Stewart said. She and Holston are part of a group opposing the rezoning. Speaking to commissioners Dec. 14, Stewart said residents should have the opportunity to opt out of the program.
“Today’s Waxhaw is bound by laws and ordinances that boggle the mind,” Holston added. “We’ve paid our taxes.”
If the Historic Preservation Committee approves the proposed historic district in January, the proposal then goes to planning board as a rezoning request, and the planning board will make a recommendation to town commissioners. The town will then hold a series of public hearings, before commissioners make a final decision.
“If the historic district and what it entails is not the answer, how do we preserve that atmosphere?” former commissioner Brian Haug said at the Dec. 14 meeting before he resigned. “For better or worse, that (atmosphere) is part of what makes the town the town. (The object) is to prevent some sort of Scandinavian, Spartan, German looking goofy thing (from) being built. If this isn’t the answer, give me one.”
Residents also rankle at the new rules because they don’t have the final say. Land use expert Rich Ducker, of the North Carolina School of Government, told Union County Weekly that North Carolina doesn’t allow residents to vote on any potential rezoning or change in land use.
“I don’t want anyone giving me a set of guidelines for my personal property,” Stewart said. “This is a free country. Just leave me alone.”