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Hickory moves to preserve more historic buildings

By Jake Flannick
Correspondent

More historic properties in Hickory could come under review in the coming year, as preservation authorities with the city seek thousands of dollars from the state to help finance a survey of its long-standing buildings for the first time in 15 years.

Such steps could lead to the formal recognition of more historic treasures in the city, adding to its trove of hundreds of properties designated as national and local landmarks.

“We will try to cover as much of the city as we can,” said Dave Leonetti, the city’s community development manager who oversees its Historic Preservation Commission.

The survey is expected to cost about $20,000, about one-third of which the city has agreed to pay with a grant, he said. City leaders authorized the commission earlier this month to apply for that grant.

While the last survey, in 1999, doubled the city’s inventory of historic properties, to more than 300, it was confined largely to downtown, he said.

A new one would cover a wider radius, from old manufacturing buildings to houses and entire subdivisions built in the 1940s and ’50s. It would span about a year, during which experts hired by the city would comb the streets, noting the historical significance and architectural features of buildings for further review.

The commission also plans to encourage owners of designated historic landmarks to help pay for bronze plaques for their properties. The plaques are expected to cost about $100 each, Leonetti said, with property owners expected to pay half.

The majority of the 320 Hickory properties on the National Register of Historic Places are houses. Of those, nearly half are in local historic districts, where the commission has in place safeguards against changes it deems incongruous with the overall aesthetic.

On a practical level, owners of properties on the national register could obtain substantial federal and state tax credits should they decide to pay for their restoration. And while those incentives do not extend to properties not on the register but within local historic districts, and whose owners must seek approval from the commission for any substantial alterations, such a designation is thought to help raise property values due to the tighter zoning and building regulations. The commission also can delay the demolition of structures in those districts for up to one year.

The presence of historic buildings also is seen by some as a sign of resilience.

“It’s much more important to preserve than to tear down,” said Patrick Daily, executive director of Hickory Landmarks Society Inc., which at times has helped save houses designated as local landmarks that were scheduled to come to the ground and finding buyers for them as the city commission delayed demolition.

He said that beyond leaving open the possibility of renewal – he cited the eastern side of the city, where a few old mills have undergone renovations for new business and office space – historic preservation is meant to protect what longtime residents likely consider part of their home.

“I haven’t stood in front of any bulldozers yet,” Daily said, “but you never know.”

That enthusiasm is shared by longtime former city councilwoman Sally Fox. Long known as a preservation advocate, she said she believes that the appearance of a place is closely associated with its identity.

“It all goes hand in hand,” said Fox, who had served on the board of directors of both the commission and landmarks society. “It’s very important that we have our special places.”

Besides their charm, she added, those places embody part of the essence of a community.

“You need to hold on to your old houses, your old buildings,” said Fox, whose home just outside of the Oakwood historic district has stood for some 100 years. “Those are the places that have character.”

Jake Flannick is a freelance writer. Have a story for Jake? Email him at jacobflannick@gmail.com.
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