Council members, residents examine the question
Does the town of Waxhaw need their proposed historic district? Members of the town council, as well as some local residents, asked the question and sought answers during the board’s Tuesday, April 26 meeting.
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 addition, the district 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.
“A national (historic) district does not give the community any tools to make sure the properties are managed well,” Waxhaw Mayor Daune Gardner said, pointing out that concept of maintaining the small town feel was the number one thing residents said they wanted on the last survey.
That’s why the district is needed, Gardner, along with commissioners Brett Diller and Erin Kirkpatrick, explained to the group in attendance. Without the district, residents in the area would have no guarantee historic homes would be kept, rather than demolished for an apartment complex or other project to be built.
“Voting it down may appease the people who are angry, but we will still have the issue,” town council member Erin Kirkpatrick said. “How does (rejecting it) solve our problem?”
Other council members however weren’t sold on the idea.
“I am not convinced we are in such dire straits that we need to make drastic changes,” council member Phillip Gregory said. Gregory said he had gone throughout the area and asked people what they thought about the idea. They told him they had invested their money and loved their homes, planning to keep up their properties.
“I can’t fight that,” Gregory said. “My biggest fear is the power invested in the historic commission itself. They have tremendous power. When they make a decision, they dictate what these homeowners ought to do.”
Gregory asked what advantage people would have, what benefits would there be to a historic district.
Waxhaw Planner Katie Ross explained that structures in the historic district could be considered for status as a historic landmark, which means the property would be eligible for 50 percent off their property taxes.
“As a person residing (in the area), you’re going to come back and see the same thing guaranteed,” Ross said, adding that right now, the town had very little authority to make sure properties are kept up, outside of what the building inspector can do for a new structure.
Under the current guidelines, Ross said, townhomes or apartments can look like a complex in Ballantyne and would not be required to compliment the area’s historic character.
Commissioners had also asked for information regarding the questions raised over the last month, both in public hearings and mailings a local group sent out. At the April 26 meeting, Waxhaw Planner Katie Ross examined some of the major accusations laid out against the district proposal. The tax rate, Ross said, would not increase as a direct result of establishing the district, as neighborhood mailers suggested. In general, Ross wrote, because Waxhaw has a stable tax base, the likelihood of taxes increasing dramatically is very low. She also pointed out the tax rate can’t climb for just one section of town.
“There are only two ways for the tax rate to increase; either by a vote of the county commmissioners to increase the county tax rate for all property or by a vote of the Waxhaw Board of Commissioners to increase the tax rate for all property,” Ross wrote.
Additionally, Ross explained, the town would not collect any revenue by establishing the district, as there would be no fees for a home to be included.
The proposed district would have borders starting at the intersection of Broad and Main streets on the left and ending just before the intersection of Main and McKibben streets. On the north side, it would begin at the intersection of Providence and Howie Mine streets, while on the south, it would end at the intersection of Broome and Caldwell streets.
At the earlier public hearing, residents had raised concerns about what repairs would be allowed and what they would need approval for. Ross told the council that for ordinary maintenance, no approval would be needed. Anything above that, deemed as minor work on the site, would have to go through a staff review, then possibly a historic commission review, even though a permit can’t technically be denied.
“If replacement is necessary and materials are not available, the historic commission is always able to work with the property owner to find the best solution on a case by case basis,” Ross wrote.
Any major renovations would have to go through the town’s process already in place, requesting building permits.
Mistakes on both sides
Maps were also displayed, highlighting the residents for and against the proposal inside the district. However supporters and opponents alike questioned the map’s accuracy. In each case, a home was shaded as the opposite color, with opponents’ property appearing to be in support and vice versa.
Resident Chris Michaelson is in support of the district proposal, but pointed out on the map where his property appeared to be one of those in opposition.
Town commissioners set their May 24 meeting as the time to vote on the issue. Waxhaw town meetings are held at the Museum of the Waxhaws, 8215 Waxhaw Highway.