Wilmington's Historic District reflects almost two-and-a-half centuries of the city's heritage, with houses ranging from opulent mansions to quaint cottages. Yet as the District has expanded into transitional and mixed-use neighborhoods, some residents have started to raise their voices over the cost of keeping things "unchanged."
While the Historic District is commonly associated with the immediate downtown Central Business District and neighborhood, areas that expand out as far as Red Cross Street are also included. Any area marked with Historic District decals over the street signs is indicative of where the District extends to.
Red Cross Street was added to the Historic District in 2000 without much fanfare. However, over the years residents say they've realized that their mostly lower income and transitional neighborhood is now being held to a higher and arguably more expensive standard.
"I think the Historic District commission has too much power," says William Boykin, whose lived in the area most of his life. "It decides who be's in the Historic District, when you gonna be in it and what happens when you are in the Historic District."
Residents in the District are expected to comply with a sizeable manual outlining the Historic District's code. Everything from the color of the house paint to the look of the landscaping is outlined, all intended to keep up the curb appeal of a bygone era.
"Otherwise it would be a hodgepodge and look like any other suburban area," points out Malissa Talbert from the City of Wilmington.
But vocal Red Cross Street residents argue that they simply can't afford to keep up with the rest of the District by having limited and sometimes pricier repair and replacement options to chose from.
One homeowner has a chimney that's literally peeling off the side of her house. Since it is original to the building, the District will not allow it to be torn down and instead requires it to be repaired or replaced with the same or similar materials. The homeowner says that she is unable to afford the $900 to $1,000 bill and assumes that eventually, gravity will solve the problem.
When Larry Dougherty replaced his front door with another wood door, he was hit with a $150 fine. According to the guidelines, the door was not the appropriate style and he hadn't asked for permission to change the design.
Still, Larry says that from his porch he can see similar violations go unnoticed, which makes his fine all the more frustrating.
"The Historic District turned a blind eye or just didn't notice it," Larry says. "That inconsistent reinforcement of the rules, that was terrible."
The City admits that there's simply not enough man power to patrol the streets looking for renegade homeowners. As such, the enforcement of warnings and fines are largely complaint-driven.
"We try to treat everyone the same that's why we have the code in place – to be fair and consistent," says Malissa Talbert. "If we're not, it's simply because we are not aware of what's going on. This is not about making money for the city and certainly not about penalizing the home owner. We just want to maintain the character of the neighborhood."
Living in the Historic District comes with responsibility, points out the City. While officials understand the frustration, they recommend residents talk to Historic District staff before making any repairs or changes. Sometimes, a similar or less expensive option is available and they can offer tips on any loans the homeowner may qualify for because of where their address is.
If you are looking for a new home, do your homework on whether or not you will be living in the Historic District and what may be required of you if you chose to relocate within the limits.
http://bit.ly/1m7gz7PFor details about Historic District policies: http://bit.ly/1m7gz7P
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