Historic Preservation

Guest Post by Terri Buckner

The recent debates over the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery and, to a lesser extent, the protection of 3 unmarked graves behind Brewer Lane in Carrboro illustrate the importance local residents and elected officials place on historical preservation. Rather than discussing the protection of a particular building or site, let's explore historic preservation in more detail and see if we can't come up with some recommendations of our own to provide local officials.

From my limited understanding of city planning, it seems like historic preservation has typically been handled through a zoning district for both towns. In Chapel Hill, protective status has been awarded to neighborhoods with historic buildings as well as areas of cultural and social value (Northside). In addition to these zoning districts, individual buildings (and cemeteries) are protected through the Historic Register (state and federal). In Carrboro, there is one neighborhood preservation district (South Greensboro area) and a couple of buildings on the Historic Register. Zoning protects the types of activities that can take place in those neighborhoods and the Historic Register protects the building itself from destruction or renovations inconsistent with its historic era. I think Carrboro's NPD zone is an example of the state's local historic district and as such provides additional protection:

Local Districts. Historic district designation is a type of zoning that applies to entire neighborhoods or other areas that include many historic properties. The zoning provides controls on the appearance of existing and proposed buildings. Designation is an honor, meaning the community believes the architecture, history, and character of the area are worthy of recognition and protection. Historic district zoning can help to improve property values by stabilizing and enhancing the neighborhood's character, and it benefits property owners by protecting them from inappropriate changes by other owners that might destroy the special qualities of the neighborhood. Unlike landmark designations, local historic district designation has no effect on local property taxes for property owners within the designated district.
- "A comparison of the National Register of Historic Places with local historic landmark and district designations", N.C. Historic Preservation Office

  • Are there social and cultural areas of Orange Co that deserve protection, even if the architecture is not particularly unique or appealing?

  • How do we balance preservation and new development?

  • How do we balance protection of majority history with that of minority history? Or should we worry about balance?

  • Should municipal funds be used for protection or should be private funds be sought? Is there a role for private-public partnerships?

  • Who makes these decisions? Elected officials? Historical experts? Voters? Residents of the community?



Does Chapel Hill not have a Historic Preservation Commission?
Hillsborough has its Historic District Commission…what does Chapel Hill have?
Do they only do the Task Force as needed?
I checked to see how Charlottesville does historic preservation.
The two cities aren't comparable in history, but maybe we could still learn something from how they do things.
Go to: www.charlottesville.org
Search ‘historic preservation'
Scroll way down to Chapter 7 ‘Chronology of Historic Preservation Activities' for a great overview of the many sources of funding Charlottesville has found.
PS~I had breakfast with Michele M. the other day…small world!

Chapel Hill has a Historic District Commission: http://www.ci.chapel-hill.nc.us/ABC/historicdistrict.htm

Carrboro appears to have a Neighborhood Preservation District Commission.

The CH Historic District Commission "approves or denies applications for “Certificates of Appropriateness” for construction, additions, signs and other exterior work in the three historic districts (Franklin-Rosemary, Cameron-McCauley, Gimghoul). Residence in the historic district is not required for appointment. A majority of members must have demonstrated special interest, experience or education in history or architecture." This doesn't say that they are responsible for identifying new areas for preservation and it seems to be limited to architectural history rather than including social and cultural history.

In Carrboro the Neighborhood Preservation District Commission is combined with the Appearance Commission. They seem to have a wider range of impact:
http://www.townofcarrboro.org/tc/AdvisoryBoards.htm#AppearanceCommission (but they don't have a full complement of members--maybe you should consider applying Mary!)

Maybe the CH Historic District Commission would be willing to expand their scope. They could be charged with identifying historic districts and properties and providing guidance for preservation. Or do they already do this?

Here's a section of Sally Greene's comments last week. To me, this is very meaningful for a couple of reasons. First because it expands the concept of art and preservation to include working class spaces and cultures and second, because I think Sally was trying to initiate a policy discussion. What is worth saving enough that we are willing to pay for it? Does saving one building or space mean losing other buildings or spaces? If so, then the decisions need to be thoughtful and inclusive and we need to understand what stands to be lost.

"In New York City, in the 1970s, a great debate went on between Ada Louise Huxtable, an architecture critic, and Herbert Gans, an urban sociologist. It had to do with the priorities of the Landmarks Commission. Gans charged that the commission favored “the stately mansions of the rich and buildings designed by famous architects” while neglecting common buildings.” Huxtable insisted on her “great buildings” approach, saying “These buildings are a primary and irreplaceable part of our civilization.” To which Gans said, fine: “Private citizens are of course entitled to save their own past, but when preservation becomes a public act, supported with public funds, it must attend to everyone's past.”"


Truth be told, I have a hard time getting excited about historic preservation in Chapel Hill. It's the relevance thing.

Carrboro, on the other hand, has exciting historical preservation possibilities.

I love social history museums. Have you ever been to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn? It may sound awful, but it is really a relevant and thought-provoking museum for everyone.

I would love to see Carrboro initiate the creation of a social history museum based on the textile industry in the South.

So much is already in place to make Carrboro a reasonable place to do this.

Imagine a comprehensive museum (modestly) modeled on the Ford Museum. There could be something for everyone:
· A technology section
· A historical overview of the evolution of textiles and how it has changed culture
· An exploration of labor practices
· A great section on how affirmative action changed the workplace (stories of Klan intimidation as African Americans became supervisors of Whites)
· Great oral histories exploring mill culture
· Photo galleries (haunting photo exhibits of the carcasses of abandoned textile plants decaying in every small town in NC)
· Documentaries to view
· Analysis of why textiles are gone
· …And so on…

This would be a great, relevant museum for everyone—especially native North Carolinians, many of whom have deep roots in textiles.

Let me get this straight...Sally Greene is and expert on this now and quoting experience in N.Y., while at the same time she is part of the politically motivated "stonewalling" regarding improvements to our local historic cemetary? Either hypocritical or arrogant.

Sally was quoting a (historical) conversation between two city planners. One advocating for the protection of monuments, great (ie majority) art, etc. The other advocating for the equal protection of low-art, or everyday artifacts that represent human culture. While I supported Edith's proposal of funding both high art and low art, I greatly appreciated Sally's position and her willingness to share the resources she used in coming to her decision. I hope her input into the discussion will be used as the basis for creating a preservation policy.

When you contrast Sally Greene's stance on West House with the recent cemetery proceedings, one has to wonder about her dedication to preservation. How can she expect UNC to plop down 1/2 mil to move West House when she can't bring herself to vote for the additional 20K that the cemetery task force requested? Never mind the surprise 50K that Edith Wiggins tacked on. Sally knew that the task force was going to ask for more money. Yet, she clearly came to the last meeting on the cemetery issue prepared to vote against it. Most can agree that Sally provided some very good information. Most can not agree, however, on the spirit in which this information was offered.

Who can tell if Sally has a true passion for historical preservation? In the cemetery proceedings, petty politics and revenge apparently took precedence over any kind of love of history. Who's to say that her advocacy of West House isn't politically motivated as well. If it is, the efforts of those West House proponents who would truly like to see this little house saved would seem to be compromised by her support.

The Chapel Hill Preservation Society is most likely comprised of people who can offer information regarding preservation policy without letting their personal politics interfere.

Donna, you are welcome to your opinion about Sally's public actions, but I'd appreciate it if you kept your personal suspicions to yourself. Your comments appear to be based on political disagreements with her and have nothing whatsoever to do with her character.

If you disagree with shat she did, then just say so. I don't like your backhanded insinuations and your simply wrong assumptions.


Why do you believe that Sally should be exempt from criticism? She's a public servant just like Edith, Dorothy and Kevin, yet you allow them to be raked over the coals on this blog. You've done some of the raking yourself. Why haven't you advised anyone else to keep their suspicions to themselves or even follow your own advice?

I express opinions that run counter to yours and you don't like that. Of course, this is your yard. But I have to tell you, if all you want are bloggers that preach to the choir, this site is going to get pretty damned boring fast.

And what am I to make of the criticism you aimed at me on the another thread for suggesting that the folks on MLK Street were afraid of being called Uncle Tom's and Aunt Jemimas if they opposed renaming Airport Rd. You feign naivete by suggesting that these terms are archaic. Could you be afraid of confronting racism as you've accused others of? I don't believe that's the case. You are simply bugged that anyone outside the clique (those who love to advertise their racial awareness) might notice something that you didn't.

I'll continue to read this blog, Darla, but I'll refrain from commenting. Don't think I'll be quiet, though. There are other avenues available.

Good-bye to you,
Mrs. Donna Lynn Ellison Bozarth

PS I fully expect you to delete this comment as you've deleted others that I've posted. No matter.


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