One of North Carolina’s most-intact Reconstruction-era black communities is one step closer to securing protections against development.
The Raleigh City Council will ask the state for permission to move forward with efforts to designate Oberlin Village, established by freed slaves after the Civil War, as a historic district. The label would protect structures in the corridor near Cameron Village and enable the city to impose strict guidelines on growth and changes.
“This is long-overdue recognition,” Councilman Russ Stephenson said.
Advocates of Oberlin Village have pushed the City Council to protect the neighborhood. They created a petition urging the city to take action and got 24 of 49 residents to sign it. Such petitions are typically required to have signatures from at least half of the affected residents.
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But Kay Crowder, the mayor pro tem, said the council should move forward because Oberlin Village is in a high-growth area, putting its historic buildings in danger of being demolished to make way for new development.
The area has 34 sites from the Reconstruction era, including a church and cemetery.
“Getting this done is very difficult, and this particular area has had a lot of properties around it go away,” Crowder said. “If we don’t move forward, I don’t know if the designation would be available then because so many of the houses will have been destroyed.”
The council’s decision Tuesday to seek permission from the state is the first of several steps for Oberlin to become a historic district. The city will send a report on Oberlin’s history, authored by area residents, to the state Office of Archives and Cultural History for review.
Raleigh must then file for a request to rezone the area, which spans Oberlin Road about a mile north between Clark and Wade avenues.
The city and residents have few legal mechanisms for regulating architectural design and aesthetics. The N.C. General Assembly changed state laws in 2015 to prevent local governments from regulating exterior building color, cladding material and other details.
A historic designation means developers and homeowners would have to get permission before making major changes to buildings. Matthew Brown, a historian at the Society for the Preservation of Historic Oakwood, said he’s pleased by the city’s progress in trying to protect Oberlin.
“I am delighted that the City Council has voted to consider historic district protection for Oberlin Village, before there is nothing left of it,” he said. “So many historic buildings all over Raleigh are being demolished in the current development boom.”