Dan Pezzoni of Landmark Preservation Associates of Lexington, Virginia, visited the city to give an overview of an upcoming architectural survey.
Members of Mount Airy Restoration Foundation, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, and city planners met Monday with Pezzoni, whose firm was chosen to update the city’s survey. The contract for that project is slated to be signed tonight at a meeting of the city’s Board of Commissioners.
The commissioners have been divided on the project since its inception a year ago when Commissioners Shirley Brinkley and Jon Cawley opposed seeking a grant to make the project possible, and Commissioners Steve Yokeley, Jim Armbrister and Dean Brown favored funding the project.
The $30,000 project includes an $18,000 grant from the State Historic Preservation Office and a $12,000 match in local funds. When the grant was approved in October, the commissioners cast their votes on whether or not to accept the funds and split the same way as they had in February, with the two dissenters continuing to express questions about the project and its implications.
At Monday’s meeting, several of the preservationists had questions themselves as to exactly what was happening. Pezzoni, along with Claudia Brown, architectural survey coordinator for the State Historic Preservation Office, explained the survey process and fielded those questions, attempting to cut through the jargon and complexities of historic preservation.
Pezzoni explained that there are two kinds of historic designations, local and federal. He said the federal designations do not affect property owners’ ability to make changes to their property, but do offer them an opportunity for tax credits if they do follow rules.
“Using your own funds, you can do what you want to with it,” he said.
Brown added, “It doesn’t place any restrictions unless a project uses state or federal funding.” She used as an example, a bank adding a drive-thru window would be affected, as banks are affiliated with Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).
Local historic designations are governed by the local governing board.
Brown stressed the purpose of the survey was to provide information.
Priorities for identifying properties of historical interest are building type, building style, and if the building is substantially intact. Buildings that do not meet those criteria, but are of significant historical interest may be considered anyway.
“If you don’t have good data, you can’t make good decisions,” Brown said.
Since the original survey was conducted in 1985, many more buildings now meet the 50-year age requirement for historic designation.
“There was a lot of development right after World War II,” said Pezzoni. The Granite City has some good examples of ’30s and ’40s roadside architecture, and there’s some early post-war Moderne design. None of those were old enough to be catalogued in 1985.
“Mayberry Mall will be part of the survey,” said Pezzoni. It’s 50 years old this year.
“We will be looking at some buildings that are less than 50 years old to get a longer shelf life for this survey,” said Brown, stating they’d look at buildings built as late as the early ’70s.
Suzanne Settle, representing a group of 33 of her West Lebanon Street neighbors, was concerned that attention to her neighborhood not be limited to the high-end houses at one end of the street but extend to include working-class areas and nearby industrial facilities. She envisions Lebanon’s role as a primary artery into the city to be worthy of a historic district of its own, saying that along with being known as West Lebanon Street, the thoroughfare has been known as Old Highway 52, Old Fancy Gap and The Hollows.
Settle asked if socioeconomic issues would be a consideration, feeling inclusion in a historic district would be beneficial to working-class people in the area.
“No,” said Brown. “All we’re doing is recording properties.”
When the survey is completed, properties that merit further examination will be placed on a study list. Property owners will be notified if their property is put on a study list. The mayor will be notified if changes or additions to historic districts are proposed. The study list will be presented in October 2018, and notification letters to property owners and the mayor will go out in late October.