Warehouse district property owners voiced strong opinions at the Community Forum on the potential “Depot Historic District” Monday evening, mostly against turning the area into a City Historic District. Members of the Raleigh Historic Districts Commission solicited concerns from the attendees. Their heated responses focused on loss of property rights and reduced real estate investment value.
Commission members recorded each concern on an easel pad and nodded receptively, but generally avoided engaging participants in direct discussion. They encouraged attendees to suggest revisions to the Design Guidelines for Raleigh Historic Districts and to the Depot District Boundaries, and also asked attendees to suggest how the revision process should proceed.
Not all district property owners are against adopting the designation for the area. One owner said he was interested in street life in low-rise commercial districts. Another attendee said that she lived nearby and liked the historic feel of it.
A district property owner responded to her comment, saying that if that was the case, she should buy property in the area, which the resident responded that she did own buildings in the district. Another added that “people are concerned that all the money and hard work they’ve sunk into their property isn’t lost.” A third owner stated that since the city has designated Fayetteville Street, Moore Square and City Market all as historic districts, the Historic Districts Commission should leave the warehouse district alone.
One fact escaped discussion until Greg Hatem of Empire Properties mentioned it halfway through the meeting. The “Depot District” is already a National Historic District. This designation simply gives property owners the opportunity to renovate their buildings to national historic standards in return for tax credits, but no restrictions are placed on changes, development or even demolition. If the area also becomes a City Historic District, exterior changes as well as new development must be approved by the Raleigh Historic Districts Commission, but even then demolition can only be delayed.
Hatem suggested that district property owners need concrete numbers before they can support the designation process. He said an appraiser could easily evaluate what potential extra expenditures and possible changes in property value would result from the historic designation. “We need to quantify it,” said Hatem.
Charles Long, who has owned 310-314 South Harrington since 2000, said that it is the commission’s responsibility to perform that appraisal. He also said it seemed suspect that the current proposed boundaries of the “Depot District” exclude several state-owned buildings that stand right beside other buildings that are included, and pointed to the old Dillon warehouses along Martin Street and the building at the NE corner of Cabarrus and Dawson as examples.
Curtis Casefang, chair of the Raleigh Historic Districts Commission, said neighborhoods like Oakwood provide examples of how much property values increase when a historic district designation is applied. He and fellow committee members emphasized that the forum was only the beginning of an ongoing discussion.
Another big concern for attendees was the lack of notification by the city to the property owners and residents about the forum. Very little information was posted about the event (although it was on little ‘ole New Raleigh and the city’s website). The Raleigh Historic Districts Commission used tax records to try to send notifications to all property owners, but many who live and work in the Warehouse District reported that they were unaware of the forum’s existence until the last minute, when they either saw a sign outside of the Depot or heard about it via word of mouth. The city should have done a better job notifying residents and business owners, and hopefully will for future forums and discussions concerning the district.
Anyone interested in receiving updates and notices of further meetings can contact the Raleigh Historic Districts Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org.