New Designated Zone in Boone to Protect Properties from Substantial Changes
A machine-armed construction crew approached 136 North Water Street one January morning. Then DH Griffin Wrecking Company demolished The Hardin house.
The house was the childhood home of Bobby Hardin, a former mayor of Blowing Rock. Built in 1926, it was an important architectural example of residential construction from the late 1920s, according to a report by the Boone Historic Preservation Commission.
The Historic Preservation Commission recommended that Boone City Council designate an area of the city center as a Local Historic District. If passed, the designation would protect neighborhood properties from substantial change, add barriers to demolition, and increase tourism.
The proposed neighborhood borders Rivers Street to the east near the Beasley Media Complex and Queen Street to the west behind Lost Province. The northern and southern boundaries of the district are roughly the Watauga County Courthouse and Appalachian Street near Boone Saloon.
Hardin House is one of 120 properties listed in the report as proof of the historical importance of downtown Boone. Each property meets the 50 year age requirement and has either architectural significance or a connection to historical events or individuals.
John Ward, city manager, said the demolition of the Hardin House and other historic buildings in recent years has served as a reminder of the pace of change.
“These losses have prompted our elected officials to place greater value on the history of our community and work to protect it,” Ward said.
A local historic district is a type of zoning that applies to entire neighborhoods or areas made up of many historic properties. Zoning provides guidelines for the appearance of properties and limits the ability of owners to demolish those properties, according to the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
In Boone, a homeowner will have to wait a year after deciding to demolish a property before they can do so. During this year, the CHP will discuss other options with the owner, in accordance with the guidelines and the design manual of the local historic district of downtown Boone.
Boone City Council will not immediately vote on the recommendation. A vote will take place after public hearings where residents can review and comment on the details of the recommendation.
The CHP began studying the report over 10 years ago under the guidance of the city council. In 2014, Eric Plaag, founder of Carolina Historical Consulting, joined the team.
Plaag said that before joining the HPC, the HPC attempted to draft guidelines that landowners should follow if the city center becomes a local historic district, which is usually one of the last steps in the process.
In 2015, the CHP announcement a new strategy. The commission began an investigation involving a meticulous search for the history of every property suspected of having historical significance in the city center. The city council approved funding of $ 8,000 for the equipment and hired three interns to help Plaag with the research process.
At the end of 2019, Plaag and the HPC completed the more than 400 page survey detailing the reason for the preservation of the property described in the proposed district.
“I wanted this document to be something that captures as much information as possible,” Plaag said. “One of my complaints about most architectural studies is that they tend to be more of a snapshot in time and less of a real architectural study where you look at change over time.”
The final version of the Boone Downtown Local Historic District Guidelines and Manual was completed in January 2020.
Design guidelines are built around the Home Secretary’s standards for rehabilitation, or Secretary standards. These 10 guidelines are used across the country in local historic neighborhoods. This is a set of rules that landowners must follow when making changes to their property that would affect items of historic significance.
The first rule of the secretary’s standards is “a property must be used for historic purposes or be placed in a new use that requires minimal change in the defining characteristics of the building, its site and its surroundings,” according to the NCDCR.
Plaag responded to potential concerns expressed by owners that they would not be able to work on their property if it fell under the Local Historic District.
“I think a lot of people sometimes have the impression that if your building is listed (as historic) there is nothing you can do about it. This is fundamentally wrong, ”Plaag said.
The changes may involve modern updates such as solar retrofits, new heaters and coolers, and changes made to meet the code. Lots of changes are possible, “they just have to be done the right way,” Plaag said.
A district owner who wishes to work on his property will consult with the CHP to ensure that the historic elements of the property are not altered. The commission would also give recommendations for materials that correspond to the historical epoch of the property.
While property owners should follow these guidelines if the local historic district were adopted, they might also see benefits, according to the Boone Downtown Design Guidelines.
These include a boom in tourism, an increase in property values and the potential for tax credits.
John Ward, City Manager, said he hoped the public forums would help educate residents on the benefits of creating a local historic district and “preserving the history of our community.”
Plaag said he believes that preserving historic properties is not only a way to protect the past, but also a great way to prepare for the future.
“A lot of people don’t see preservation as progressive and forward-thinking when in fact it is. You keep something that you can use later, ”said Plaag. “This is the same reason why parents with a lot of children learn very quickly: You don’t throw away or get rid of your older child ‘s clothes until your younger ones have used these things. “