Historic Preservation Commission – A Door is a Door is a Door Or Not! – Part 2


“Why are you insisting on these rules and regulations, when I’m the good guy here. I’m fixing an otherwise over-looked house that is spiraling downward. I am willing to put money into the project to improve the neighborhood. There’s a boarded up house, for heaven’s sake, next door.”    -An objection from Stepheny’s writing world

My first reaction to an objection like this is, “Lordy, give them anything they want! Who can deny the great need of the houses in the historic districts for rescue efforts that will breathe new life back into them? I mean, will the tides reverse themselves if an unpainted fence stays up? BUT, if we lose sight of the large picture –the presence of neighborhoods that are defined by their historical significance, which is a strong feature of Rocky Mount, we ignore the role our historic districts play in the success of any revitalization efforts.

When it comes to the guidelines for our historic districts, you might say, it’s a crazy distinction. “A door is a door is a door.” but remember, preservation assumes that all historic features, materials, etc. will be kept where it’s humanly possible. Therefore, these historic features must be restored or repaired and maintained into the future. Preservation values the origin of a building and its occupants over time and assumes that all evidence of them will be preserved, as well as the original character of the structure.

The HPC was conceived not only to help protect the integrity of the historic districts but to HELP  those who are investing in these districts. They’ll grant an extension of time for planning. They have economical alternatives to suggest and resources to pass along that are acceptable places to purchase building materials. (Putting in a plug for Preservation Rocky Mount’s Salvage Store at 910 Falls Road that is open on Friday & Saturdays 10-12. or by appointment (252-985-1804 and filled with materials from deconstructed houses. It’s better than a candy store.)

There are reasons why guidelines for historic districts pay off.  We have a spill-over from Raleigh that is making its way East, arriving in Rocky Mount along with other newcomers from an amazing myriad of places, (ask the people at the dog park where they came from). Today, people want their homes and workplaces to be unique and distinctive—exactly the kind of distinctiveness, character, and sense of place that historic preservation districts provide. When you ask what buyers are looking for, you’ll hear walkable communities, authenticity, and charm. Investors recognize that Rocky Mount has exactly what people want today. There must be a margin of profit for them. The other side of the preservation coin is rehabilitation; fixing up a deteriorated historic property. Like preservation, it puts a premium on retaining and repairing historic features but allows more leeway for repair and replacement of elements that have been severely damaged by time.

I’ll write more about this two-sided coin soon. I hope I haven’t bored the socks off you with this topic. I ask that you keep it  on your radar screen, to think about and problem solve. Thanks!




The ‘Badass” Historic Preservation Commission or Not! – Part 1

Buying property in a Historic District comes with certain responsibilities. “We are only the caretakers of these houses, which were here before we owned them and which will be here after we are gone. They contain the wood from the old-growth forests, they are monuments to the skill of those who labored to build them, they represent our cultural heritage.” – Jane Powell


You may not think of yourself as a preservationist, but at heart, most people are. In simple terms, historic preservation means safeguarding the existence and appearance of historic elements of the community. It’s not only a ‘bricks and mortar thing’  but a safeguard that preserves the context of our stories. We’ve all heard someone say, “It broke my heart when that building came down.” Charles Dunn’s Facebook page, Rocky Mount Way Back When fills an insatiable need we have to remain connected to our past.

In our hands, we hold a two-sided coin.  There is often real tension between those who favor preservation and those who see rehabilitation as an acceptable way of dealing with historic properties. The increase in investor and homeowner sales in our Historic Districts is exciting, a cause for celebration as we welcome all our new neighbors. My concern is that we find a shared language that communicates Rocky Mounts Historic District guidelines as a worthy and advantageous endeavor to a burgeoning group of young, hardworking investors, flippers, and contractors. We’re all addicted to HGTV and when Chip & Johanna Gaines find a problem that is going to cost them money, we groan. We want Rocky Mounts version of HGTV investors to be wildly successful and save money where they can, BUT, when you invest in a Historical District property, you take on an additional responsibility. You have to know and accept this UP FRONT.  In embracing the long view, you will see that you have embarked on important and exciting work that leaves your thumbprint on the preservation of Rocky Mount’s past and future.

We trust our Historic Preservation Commission to hold the line in protecting the character of the neighborhoods where people already live and expect that protection. If you don’t embrace the preservation angle in your heart, the Commission becomes a group of ‘badass’ folks out to make life difficult.  (An unfair label to hang on a dedicated group doing the job we have given them to do – preserving the integrity of our historic neighborhoods.)

I have written a version of a compelling objection that illustrates how tough it is to find a response both sympathetic to a problem blocking a Certificate of Appropriateness while remaining steadfast to the task set before the Historic Preservation Commission.

“Why are you insisting on these rules and regulations, when I’m the good guy here. I’m fixing an otherwise over-looked house that is spiraling downward. I am willing to put money into the project to improve the neighborhood. There’s a boarded up house, for heaven’s sake, next door.”