A District Divided: Raleigh Historic District Overlay Debate Continues

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CORRECTION APPENDED: The caption for the photo below of the Seventh Day Adventist Church on Person Street orginally said Hurricane Irene caused the damage. The April tornado actually caused the damage. In addition, Edna Rich-Ballentine’s name was misspelled. The error has been corrected. 

This is part two of a two-part series. Read part one.

A proposed Historic Overlay District for an area of Southeast Raleigh has thrust residents and community groups into a heated debate.

The Historic Overlay District would extend from Davie Street to East South Street, between South Blount and Bloodworth streets. This would be the sixth HOD in the city, joining Oakwood, Boylan Heights, Moore Square, Blount Street and Capitol.

The HOD would be named the Deluxe Historic District after a now-demolished hotel established as one of the first hotels for African-Americans during segregation.

The Planning Commission approved the new district, but city councilors requested that a final information session be given in January to make sure residents, business and property owners understand the consequences of the overlay.

Historic Overlay district map

James E. Williams is a proud advocate and historian for the Deluxe District. Photo by Karen Tam.

For It
Those in favor of the new designation say the possible cost increase is offset by the increase in property values.

Former RHDC Chair and Oakwood resident Curtis Kasefang said in the 15 years he’s owned his home, the value of the property has more than doubled. Even during the housing bust, his home value remained relatively stable. He attributes the upswing to the increased development in Oakwood, which he said has seen more permitted renovations and infill development than any other part of the city.

Because the HOD has guidelines for development, infill projects or renovations are more predicable, unlike other parts of the city, such as Five Points. While the Five Points neighborhood is designated as a National Historic District, it does not have the same building restrictions as a local historic district. Kasefang said this has lead to the building of homes that do not match the character of the neighborhood.

Lifelong resident Edna Rich-Ballentine is part of the movement to protect the area with an HOD. Her home on Carrabus Street belonged to her grandmother. She said the integrity of the neighborhood will be lost if it is not designated a historic district.

Rich-Ballentine said without an HOD, it is possible that there will be more large-scale construction and urban renewal in the area.

“We as owners can sort of control our destiny and [ensure] other things don’t get thrown away or torn down without some impact or input from us,” she said.

The edge of the Deluxe District with Shaw University just across the street. The Estey Building on Shaw's campus, on the right, is the oldest surviving building at the university. Photo by Karen Tam.

Jenny Harper, a newer resident of the area, said she and her husband were disturbed by the increasing number of vacant lots brought on by demolished buildings. She said she hopes the HOD will encourage residents to take pride in their homes and more responsible development.

Harper has become acquainted with the son of her home’s original owner, who is now 88 and it has fueled her desire to keep the neighborhood intact.

“We want to see this neighborhood that people worked so hard to build, gave everything they could to build,” she said. “We want to make sure its still here 100 years from now.”

Against It
Central Citizens Advisory Council Chair Lonnette Williams said the HOD would divide the East Raleigh-South Park National Historic District and that the overlay’s namesake, the Deluxe Hotel, has a negative history and does not represent the positive aspects of the area.

“The proposal does not preserve the African-American heritage of this area,” Williams wrote in an email, “but divides and alters its identity as part of one of the nation’s oldest African-American neighborhoods for the control of parcels of land and Shaw University’s expansion opportunities.”

The Seventh Day Adventist Church on Person Street was regularly used until the April tornado left the church with major damage. The church is now at the center of a debate over whether it should be saved or torn down. Photo by Karen Tam.

She is also concerned that residents don’t understand the implications of an HOD.

“It will also create financial challenges for many of the existing property owners who have not been made aware of the requirements for homes in a local historic district,” she said.

She reported at the public hearing in October that the Central CAC voted 15 to 1 in opposition of the overlay.

Resident Alan McDonald said an HOD would hinder development instead of encouraging it. McDonald believes the area’s proximity to Raleigh’s central business district makes it desirable for increased development. He said the extra regulation might discourage developers.

McDonald, whose home was once the site of the city’s police stables, said he may not have purchased his home in 2004 had it already been part of an historic district. He said the extra regulations would have made him reconsider his purchase and believes it might hinder his chances of one day selling the property.

A house on Lenoir Street still has blue tarps covering the roof after damage from the April tornado. Photo by Karen Tam.

McDonald also believes that comparing the area to Oakwood is misleading. Oakwood, he said, always had large, high-end homes, but he said the area in question now is much more economically depressed.

While the RHDC said its research has lead to a majority of residents in favor of the historic district, both Williams and McDonald don’t believe those numbers are representative of how the community really feels. McDonald said far more residents are opposed to the overlay than are represented in the RHDC feedback.

Representatives from Shaw University did not respond to the Record’s requests for an interview, but Jeffery Smith, vice president of Administration and Student Affairs, represented the school at the public hearing earlier this year.

“We do believe the area has quite a bit of potential for redevelopment,” Smith said.

Shaw owns 12 lots that would be located within the overlay, but the school itself — considered the heart of the neighborhood — was not considered as part of the district.

If the city approves the overlay, “we very well would not be able to move forward and take advantage of opportunities that we see forthcoming,” Smith said.

The informational meeting is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. but a location had not been determined before this article’s deadline.


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