Should NoDa be a historic district?

Should NoDa be a historic district?

Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios

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NoDa, although it’s known for changing quickly, is just about as old as it is new. The popular Charlotte neighborhood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But that doesn’t mean it’s protected.

The story is similar to other longtime neighborhoods around Charlotte — Elizabeth and McCrorey Heights — that have or are considering seeking a local historic district designation from the City of Charlotte.

  • The label comes with guardrails so old structures aren’t torn down or significantly altered without government oversight.

Yes, but: NoDa is a place where people generally embrace the freedom to do whatever they want with their properties. When residents paint murals on their fences or stake statutes in their lawns, no one is surprised, and no homeowners association protests.

  • “The most restrictive category [in a historic district] is coming down to things like, if you have to get new windows, you have to get those approved,” says Krysten Reilly, president of the NoDa Neighborhood and Business Association. “And I’m not sure if it’s in the character of our neighborhood to go that far.”

Why it matters: NoDa seeks to preserve its history and buildings from new development — but a traditional historic district designation would mean residents and business owners would have less freedom to make changes to their properties.

Driving the news: The City of Charlotte recently implemented new protective zoning overlays for neighborhoods to preserve their character and history. They would allow NoDa to possibly pursue another option that wouldn’t be as constraining as a traditional historic district.

  • “We have discussed in the past using the original full historic district designation and never moved forward with it,” Chad Maupin, vice president of the neighborhood association, says. “Now that there are less restrictive options, is this something that’s more desirable?”

What’s happening: The neighborhood association is in early talks about applying for a local historic district. It’s expected to be a long conversation that might never lead to an actual proposal, Reilly tells me.

  • “The only question we’ve asked and answered so far is: is this worth exploring?” Maupin says. He adds, “I am very much on the fence myself.”

Typically historic districts are deployed as a way to keep development at bay. New construction is already encroaching on the number of historic buildings in NoDa, Maupin says. But, he asks, will neighbors voluntarily put restrictions on what they can do with their properties?

Flashback: Most of the significant history in North Charlotte dates back to its days as a mill district. Some of those 100-plus-year-old mills have become adaptive reuse projects: Johnston Mill is now residences and retail. Highland Park Mill No. 3 is apartments and Heist Brewery.

  • Wander into NoDa’s residential streets and you’ll find one-story houses that reflect North Carolina’s “turn-of-the-century mill-village architecture.” Shopkeepers and clerks, who worked in the businesses on North Davidson, lived in bungalows and Victorian cottages that still stand today.
  • NoDa has transformed since the textile mills closed in the ’70s. Artists found refuge there in the ’90s, and the arts scene boomed. Then the Blue Line light rail came through. Today, construction sites for apartments and retail are at nearly every prominent turn.

[Go deeper: NoDa and surrounding areas get a new brand that’s a nod to the past]

Between the lines: The city now offers four residential overlays intended to protect neighborhood character.

  • Historic District Overlay: Property owners would need permission from the city to make exterior changes to structures and lots, including demolition.
  • Historic District Overlay – Streetside: Only changes that are viewable from the street require approval.
  • Neighborhood Character Overlay: This would impose additional design standards on the neighborhood. They can include building height, lot width, off-street parking, setbacks and rules about trees — but cannot regulate demolition. The community would choose the guidelines.
  • Residential Infill Overlay: This can only regulate front yard setbacks, building sidewall heights and the size of new construction.

Zoom out: Some neighborhoods have openly embraced historic district status. McCrorey Heights, for one, is the latest district to receive the designation in 2022. It’s a historically Black neighborhood that some of the most famous Charlotteans and Civil rights leaders have called home.

  • But some communities are more hesitant to hand control over to government officials in the name of historic preservation. In historic districts, it costs homeowners money and time to make even the simplest of changes, like replacing shutters or taking down a tree.
  • A battle has ensued in Elizabeth over the matter. The Historic Elizabeth Neighborhood Foundation has applied to make the old streetcar suburb a historic district, but it’s facing opposition from the Elizabeth Community Association.

[Go deeper: How historic Elizabeth could avoid getting swallowed by development]

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