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A proposed resolution could help save historic buildings in Wilmington

Published: Nov. 1, 2021 at 12:59 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Wilmington’s history is part of its appeal for folks who live here, and for tourists; however, as new development continues and vacant land becomes a thing of the past itself, historic buildings could soon be at risk. A resolution being brought forward to city council could help officials and historic activists preserve some at-risk buildings.

Councilman Kevin O’Grady is sponsoring a resolution that would give the city council some additional powers to preserve and protect historic assets but it’s going to require the state legislature to enact local legislation to do so.

The resolution is sponsored by O’Grady and was initially presented by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.

“The Historic Preservation Commission, part of their responsibilities is to make recommendations to the council about things to preserve historic assets. So they brought forward — they made a resolution that asked the council to go to the legislature... to give Wilmington the power to extend a stay of demolition for historic assets that are outside of the historic districts,” O’Grady said.

The call for additional protections for historic assets has been increasing over the years. Recently, a historic home located outside of a historic district, Shandy Hall, was torn down. Neighbors and advocates like the Historic Wilmington Foundation tried but, ultimately, were unsuccessful to prevent the historic home’s destruction.

“The authorization would allow for the city council to pass a local ordinance giving the Historic Preservation Commission the authority to enact up to a one-year stay on demolition of significantly contributing structures that lie outside of the existing historic preservation districts,” according to city council’s agenda.

As it stands, the city has several historic districts that include Wilmington, Carolina Heights, Carolina Place, Westbrook-Ardmore, Sunset Park, Market Street Mansion, Brookwood, and Masonboro Sound. However, these districts don’t have the same protections that other districts have with overlays, like those of downtown.

Of course, anytime a government proposes increased control over private property, it’s going to raise some concerns of private property rights, but O’Grady said this isn’t about taking those rights away but giving everyone time to react.

“We’re not taking away anybody’s property rights here, we’re asking for a breathing spell. If somebody is going to pick a building that has a historic character that’s already recognized that way and they want to demolish, it’s going to give us a year to see if there’s something to work out that it can be saved,” he said.

Even if city council agrees to pass the resolution on Tuesday, it will be up to the state lawmakers next year to pass the local act if they so choose, and then it will be up to city council, which could look very different following this year’s municipal elections.

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