A trio of specialists had plenty to offer in their Sept. 21 reports on historic preservation options for Zebulon, including a repeat invitation for the town to join the Wake County historic landmark program.
It took about an hour for Claudia Brown with the State Historic Preservation Office, Gary Roth with Capital Area Preservation and Wake County planner Bryan Coats to go over the types of historic recognitions that exist and the differences in national and local preservation programs.
“This is so much information, and it’s really a process of baby steps,” Roth told the Town Board. “It all doesn’t happen at one time.”
The presentations marked a second visit to the council chambers in recent years for Roth, whose CAP group advises Wake County on preservation issues and staffs the Wake County Historic Preservation Commission.
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Roth encouraged commissioners in 2014 to participate in the county program that designates landmarks, potentially even districts, making properties eligible for a 50 percent deferral on town and county taxes. Zebulon was, at that time, and remains the only Wake municipality that does not participate in the program, or have one of its own.
“It’s a bargain in a sense, because when (property owners) volunteer to be a landmark and you agree to designate them, they get this 50 percent property tax deferral, but on the other hand, if they want to make significant changes to the property ... then those would have to be reviewed by the Wake County preservation commission,” Roth said.
Roth assured the board that the town would have the final say-so in designating landmarks if it joins the program – that the preservation commission would make recommendations on prospective landmarks for the town to consider.
“You’re never going to wake up in Zebulon and find out anything has been designated that you don’t know about,” he said.
He also proposed an initial step for Zebulon if it decides to pursue participation in the Wake landmark program. Joining the Wake County Certified Local Government Program, he said, would open the door for the town to become involved in a historic preservation program whether it chooses to do so at the local or national level.
“There’s lots of candy in the store for you to choose from, or not choose from,” Roth said.
National historic districts were the main focus of Brown’s report.
She explained to the board that the national program is quite different than the local program.
“National Register listing does not place any restrictions on what a private property owner can do with their property, unless they’re taking advantage of (tax credits),” Brown said. “Local designation does require certification of appropriateness for certain substantial exterior changes to a property.”
Brown reviewed criteria for consideration as a national listing, including significance or association with important historic events, historical trends or people who were important, or for architecture or engineering.
Income-producing properties, she said, are eligible for up to 40 percent in combined federal and state tax credits against the cost of a certified rehabilitation. Non-income-producing properties that are on the National Register or are contributing to a register-listed historic district can receive a tax credit of 15 percent for rehabilitation expenses up to $22,500.
Where to draw the line?
“If you’ve got a district and you’ve got old houses, newer houses and that type of thing, how do the newer houses fit into the district?” asked Commissioner Dale Beck.
Brown said when writing a nomination for a historic district, building trends should be taken into consideration.
“You decide when the period of significance for that district ends – is it appropriate to end in 1950, in 1960?” she said.
All structures within a district under consideration are documented in an inventory list.
“When you draw the boundaries for a district, you draw those boundaries so you have the highest concentration of what we call contributing buildings,” Brown said. “Every one of those resources, in addition to being described, is classified as either contributing or noncontributing.”
Contributing resources, she said, are those that are intact and date to the period of significance being identified for the district.
The noncontributing resources fall outside that area of significance, usually meaning they are less than 50 years old – a cutoff for historic consideration – or they are older buildings that have been substantially altered.
The 50-year cutoff means homes built as recently as 1966 are eligible.
“We’re talking about ranch-house neighborhoods,” Brown said. “You can have different architectural periods. You can have Queen Anne style houses from the late 19th, early 20th century ... and now these ranch-house neighborhoods would be considered historic.”
The Town Board asked staff to condense the details of the presentations and report back at an upcoming meeting.