The city of Charlotte has a powerful tool to help preserve its historic neighborhoods. As development continues to boom, it might be time to expand the number of places it’s used.
That tool: Historic districts. These districts add a layer of approvals for any alterations (or demolitions) to be done on homes and other buildings.
Charlotte currently has six designated historic districts:
- Fourth Ward
- Hermitage Court
- Plaza Midwood
- Wesley Heights
If you live in a historic district, you’ll need to submit an application explaining why your project won’t change the character of the neighborhood. This goes even for simple things like adding a deck out back.
The 12-member Historic District Commission hears these requests and decides whether or not to issue a “certificate of appropriateness.” All of this can take from 30 days to as long as a year or more.
The system has been in place since the mid-1970s as Fourth Ward went through a period of redevelopment, and ultimately led to its remaining Victorian homes being preserved.
Dilworth was added in 1983, Plaza Midwood in 1992, Wesley Heights in 1994, Hermitage Court in 2006, and Wilmore in 2010.
The process doesn’t keep things “frozen in time,” the commission says, but rather makes sure that the character of the neighborhoods is preserved. It keeps people from making dramatic style changes.
But it also slows down Charlotte’s proclivity to raze the past and build shiny new things in its place.
For example, the Historic District Commission has been very involved in trying to preserve the VanLandingham Estate in Plaza Midwood.
It’s time to add more neighborhoods.
The Cherry neighborhood lobbied to become a historic district in 2011, but did not get the status. Since then, the area has changed dramatically, with dozens of homes torn down and larger ones built in its place. Former City Council member Patsy Kinsey regularly cited what happened with Cherry as a failing of city leadership.
[Agenda story: The Cherry Neighborhood’s complex history and complicated future]
While it’s perhaps too late for Cherry, there is at least one neighborhood that would be an obvious candidate for becoming a historic district: Elizabeth.
Dating to 1891, it’s the second-oldest “streetcar suburb” in Charlotte, behind only Dilworth. Independence Park dates to 1905, and the architecture of its single-family homes remains distinctive.
The neighborhood has tried several times to get historic district status, but failed. Meanwhile, development continues to progress.
One of the latest examples is the impending demolition of the Martha Washington Apartments, which leased for a reasonable rate and date back to the 1940s.
To become a historic district, the City Council must vote to approve it.
We’ll see if the new City Council is more willing to take this issue on.