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Frequently Asked Questions

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National Register

What is the National Register of Historic Places?
What is a National Register Historic District?
Will National Register listing protect a resource from alteration or demolition?
What does the National Register mean for a property owner?
What are investment tax credits?
What are the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation?
What does “Contributing Property” Mean?
What does “Noncontributing Property” Mean?
Who Administers the National Register of Historic Places?
How are Eligible Properties Identified?
What is a National Register Nomination?
Who Prepares National Register Nominations?
What Happens to a Completed National Register Nomination?
How can I go about getting my property listed on the National Register?

Local Historic Districts

What is the difference between a Local Historic District and a National Register Historic District?
What exactly is a local historic district?
What are the major provisions of a local historic district ordinance?
What are design review guidelines?
How do I know if I need a COA?
How is a local historic district designated?
What does it mean to own property in a local historic district?
What is required in a COA application to the Commission?
Is there a way to deal with minor projects?
What about routine maintenance?
How long does it take to have projects reviewed and approved?
What happens if I choose not to go through the Commission’s review process?
Does the Commission require you to restore your property?  

Local Historic Landmarks

What is a local historic landmark?
How does a property obtain local historic landmark status?
Would my property qualify for local historic landmark status?
What happens after a property is designated as a local historic landmark?  

Commission Questions

What is the Forsyth County Historic Resources Commission?
When was the Commission created?
Who are the Commissioners?
What are the Commissioners' duties?
Who are the Commission’s staff?
What does the Commission’s staff do?
Where and when is the place and time of the Commission’s meetings?
What is a Certified Local Government?  

General

How can I date my house and its architectural features?
How do I find reliable contractors to work on my historic property?
How can I protect my house?
What style is my house?
What color is appropriate for my house?  


National Register

What is the National Register of Historic Places?

The National Register of Historic Places is the nation's official list of historic resources worthy of preservation for their significance in American history, architecture, archaeology, and culture. Established by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the purpose of the National Register is to ensure that properties significant in national, state, and local history are considered in planning federal projects, and to encourage historic preservation initiatives by state and local governments as well as the private sector.

What is a National Register Historic District?

Under the National Register program, districts as well as individual properties can be created. The National Register of Historic Places defines a district as a "geographically definable area, urban or rural, possessing a significant concentration, linkage or continuity of sites, buildings, structures or objects united historically or aesthetically by plan or physical development…". Creating a National Register district can help communities plan for the preservation of their historic and architectural resources. Because these resources are identified and documented, citizens can become more informed and develop a sense of pride about the history and architecture of their neighborhoods. They can then begin to plan for the preservation of the area using the tools available for National Register properties.

Will National Register listing protect a resource from alteration or demolition?

A common misconception is that once a property is listed on the National Register, it cannot be demolished or altered. Unfortunately, this is not true. Under the National Register program, a private property owner using private resources can maintain the property as they wish. Only local ordinances can more proactively protect historic resources.

What does the National Register mean for a property owner?

First, National Register listing is an honor and can be used to educate citizens and property owners, and as a tool to foster community pride and provide financial stability.

Second, National Register properties are considered and protected in the public planning process. All properties and districts listed on or eligible for the National Register are considered in the planning of federal projects such as highway construction and Community Development Block Grants. Federal projects also include activities sponsored by state or local governments or private entities if they are licensed or partially funded by the federal government. Federal projects do not include loans made by banks insured by the FDIC or federal farm subsidies.

Third, National Register listing provides financial incentives for the preservation of National Register Properties. Specifically, these incentives are in the form of federal and state investment tax credits. (See question below.)

What are investment tax credits?

Under the Tax Reform Act of 1986, a privately owned building that is listed in the National Register or is a contributing building in a National Register historic district may be eligible for a 20% federal income investment tax credit claimed against the costs of a qualified rehabilitation of the building. North Carolina tax law also provides a 20% state credit for these income-producing buildings. Together, these credits apply only to income-producing, depreciable properties, including residential rental properties. The cost of the rehabilitation must equal or exceed the adjusted basis of the building (original cost minus land value, minus previous depreciation, plus previous capital improvements). Plans for the rehabilitation are reviewed by the State Historic Preservation Office and the National Park Service, and work on the building must meet federal rehabilitation standards.

There is also a 30% State tax credit available for certified rehabilitations of nonincome-producing historic buildings, including private residences. (The federal credits do not apply to owner-occupied residential properties.) Within a 24 month period, a minimum of $25,000 must be spent to qualify. Plans for this program are also reviewed by the State Historic Preservation Office, and work on the building must also meet the same federal rehabilitation standards. It is important to note that these credits are not retroactive; work on the project cannot begin until the State has approved the project.

What are the Secretary of the Interior’s Standard
for Rehabilitation?

In 1977, the National Park Service developed guidelines to help owners of historic properties determine what building components should be preserved in the rehabilitation process. These standards must be followed when rehabilitation tax credits are to be utilized for a project. But they can also be useful for homeowners and others not utilizing the tax credit program, so that costly and/or irreplaceable mistakes can be avoided.

The guidelines focus on 3 basic provisions: 1) identifying; 2) retaining; and, 3) preserving important architectural features. They cover general information regarding building exteriors, interiors, building sites, and historic districts and neighborhoods. Additional information is also given regarding health and safety code requirements, energy retrofitting, and new additions.

To obtain this publication, visit the National Park Service website at National Park Service website..

What does "Contributing Property" Mean?

Contributing properties are located within the boundaries of a National Register district. They "contribute" to the district by their architectural or historical characteristics.

What does "Noncontributing Property" Mean?

Noncontributing properties do not share the architectural or historical characteristics of a National Register district. New construction and older properties that have been altered so much that they are no longer recognizable as historic are categorized as noncontributing properties.

Who Administers the National Register of Historic Places?

The National Register is a list maintained by the National Park Service under the Secretary of the Interior. Nominations to the National Register are submitted by the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). In North Carolina, SHPO staff administer the National Register program.

In North Carolina, a review board, called the National Register Advisory Committee (NRAC) examines potential nominations and makes recommendations to the SHPO regarding the eligibility of properties and the adequacy of nominations. These boards are composed of professional historians, archaeologists, architectural historians, and architects as well as other citizens having a demonstrated interest and expertise in historic preservation. The NRAC meets three times per year (the second Thursday of February, June, and October) to consider the eligibility of properties for nomination to the National Register. Nominations prepared under the supervision of the SHPO staff and approved by the NRAC are forwarded to the Keeper of the National Register in the National Park Service in Washington, D.C. Final authority to list properties in the National Register resides with the National Park Service.

How are Eligible Properties Identified?

Properties and districts that may be eligible for the National Register are usually brought to the attention of the SHPO staff and the NRAC either (1) through a county or community survey of historic properties co-sponsored by the State Historic Preservation Office and a local government or organization; (2) by interested individuals who provide preliminary information about properties to the SHPO staff; or (3) through historic property surveys conducted as part of an environmental review process.

People seeking National Register listing for properties that have not been recorded in survey projects co-sponsored by the State Historic Preservation Office may submit a Study List application to the SHPO. If adequate information and color slides of the property are included with the application, the NRAC will consider the property at its next meeting. If in the opinion of the NRAC the property appears to be potentially eligible for the National Register, it is placed on the Study List. This action by the NRAC authorizes the SHPO staff to work with the owner to coordinate a formal nomination of the property to the National Register.

The NRAC can best evaluate the eligibility of an individual property within the context of a community-wide or regional inventory of historic or prehistoric properties. This provides a basis for comparing the relative significance of similar types of properties in a community.

What is a National Register Nomination?

A National Register nomination is a scholarly and authoritative document that thoroughly describes and evaluates a property's setting and physical characteristics, documents its history, assesses its significance in terms of its historic context, and demonstrates how it specifically meets National Register criteria for evaluation. It is supported by professional quality black and white photographs, maps delineating the property's boundaries, and other materials and information. The nomination must be prepared according to Federal and State guidelines.

Who Prepares National Register Nominations?

Most nominations are prepared by private consultants hired either by individual property owners or by local governments or organizations. Nominations of archaeological sites are sometimes prepared by professional archaeologists as part of their on-going research. SHPO National Register staff is responsible for reviewing, editing, and processing nominations prepared in these ways. Due to the great demand for National Register nominations, the small SHPO staff is unable to prepare nominations as a public service.

An owner of a Study List property who seeks to have it listed in the National Register may hire a private consultant to prepare the nomination. SHPO staff cannot quote fees, and fees will vary depending on the consultant and the complexity of the nomination. An owner may expect to pay a professional historian, architectural historian, or archaeologist the equivalent of 40 to 80 hours of time at a professional hourly wage.

What Happens to a Completed National Register Nomination?

The nomination is reviewed by members of the National Register Advisory Committee at one of the regular meetings. If the NRAC recommends that the nomination be submitted to the National Register, it is signed by the State Historic Preservation Officer and forwarded to the Keeper of the National Register. At the National Register office, the nomination is reviewed and the decision to list or not list is made within not less than 15 and not more than 45 days of receipt. If the property is listed, the SHPO will notify the owner and provide a certificate stating that the property has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Owners who desire plaques may order them from private commercial suppliers. The SHPO does not provide plaques or recommend any particular supplier.

How can I go about getting my property listed on the National Register?

Commission staff are available to provide basic information on the National Register program and Forsyth County’s historic properties, as well as guiding you through the nomination process. However, the National Register program is coordinated through the State Historic Preservation Office in Raleigh. For detailed information, you should contact the National Register Coordinator, State Historic Preservation Office. 4618 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4618/919-733-6545.  

Local Historic Districts

What is the difference between a Local Historic District and a National Register Historic District?

Local historic districts are completely different from National Register historic districts. The main difference is that a local historic district is a type of zoning district that has regulations regarding exterior changes to properties. In a National Register district, a private property owner using private funds can make changes to property without any review process. However, it should be noted that some areas are both a local historic district and a National Register district. In that instance, the regulations set out in the zoning ordinance for local historic districts must be followed.

What exactly is a local historic district?

A local historic district is an area designated by the governing board because it contains important architectural and historic resources. These districts are designated as part of the zoning ordinance in order to safeguard a valuable part of the community’s cultural heritage. In Forsyth County, there are two types of local historic districts: H Districts, i.e. Old Salem and Bethabara; and, HO Districts, i.e. West End.

What are the major provisions of a local historic district ordinance?

Exterior work that would change the appearance of buildings, sites and landscape features, new construction, demolition, and relocation within a district must be approved by the Historic Resources Commission. The proposed work must be found to be consistent with design review guidelines that are adopted for each district to preserve the unique character of the district. Before exterior alterations can be made to properties in these types of districts, a property owner has to apply for and obtain a document, called a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA), from the Historic Resources Commission

What are design review guidelines?

Design review guidelines are, essentially, recommendations about the appropriate treatment for changes to property within a local historic district. They are used as reference by the Commission when considering an application for a COA.

How do I know if I need a COA?

If you live in West End, Old Salem, or Bethabara, you should call the Historic Resources Commission staff before you begin any work. Commission staff can advise you if your proposed work needs a COA and provide information on how to obtain one.

How is a local historic district designated?

Local historic districts are designated by the appropriate governing board in Forsyth County, depending on where the area is located. This is done through the rezoning process, after public review and comment. All affected property owners have the opportunity to make their feelings known well before a vote is taken. Additionally, the State Historic Preservation Office is required to comment on all local historic district designation proposals prior to the governing board vote, to ensure that the proposed district meets the criteria outlined in State law.

What does it mean to own property in a local historic district?

Property owners in local historic districts need to contact the Commission staff (336-727-2087) before beginning any exterior changes to existing structures, or prior to beginning any project involving new construction or demolition. The Commission and its staff will review the project. If it meets the terms of the ordinance and district’s guidelines, a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) will be issued. A building permit cannot be issued in an historic district without a COA.

What is required in a COA application to the Commission?

The application requirement will vary, depending on the nature and complexity of the proposed project. Commission staff are available to help with the application process (336-727-2087). The COA application form also has a summary of submission materials that may be helpful.

Is there a way to deal with minor projects?

Commission staff can approve certain projects so that unnecessary delays can be avoided for smaller scale work. Administrative approvals are available for specific types of work, if the staff determines that the proposal follows the district’s guidelines.

What about routine maintenance?

Repair and replacement projects are not reviewed by the Commission, as long as not material or design changes are made.

How long does it take to have projects reviewed and approved?

Minor work approvals usually only take a few days, and often less. Projects that require full Commission review can take up to 30 days, since the Commission meets monthly. Sometimes a project can be continued for an extra month if additional information is needed or if a project is extremely complex. In all cases, the Commission must act on an application within 120 days after its filing.

What happens if I choose not to go through the Commission’s review process?

All property owners in local historic districts need to consult with Commission staff before beginning any exterior project, and receive any necessary approvals prior to commencing work. When Commission staff learn of a project that is underway without approval, every attempt is made to contact the property owner and rectify the situation as quickly as possible in a mutually acceptable manner. The local ordinance provides enforcement procedures handled through the appropriate Inspections Division/Department, which are used only when all reasonable efforts to rectify a violation have failed.

Does the Commission require you to restore your property?

No. The Commission only gets involved when you decide to begin work on your property. The Commission will not cause you to initiate a project.  

Local Historic Landmarks

What is a local historic landmark?

A local historic landmark is an individual property, which may be a building, structure, site, area, sign or other object, that has been designated by the appropriate governing board (depending on location) because the property has a special character, historic or aesthetic interest, or value. Landmark designation signifies recognition that the property is important to the heritage and character of the community and that its protection enriches all the community’s residents. Generally, a property must be 50 years old to qualify for local historic landmark designation, although there are exceptions for properties with special significance.

How does a property obtain local historic landmark status?

An owner who is interested in pursuing local landmark designation should contact Commission staff. There is a detailed application to complete and a $50.00 application fee. Once an application is complete, it is sent to the State Historic Preservation Office for comment. It then goes before the Commission for review at a public hearing, at which time the Commission makes a recommendation to the appropriate governing board. Finally, the governing board designates the landmark by adopting a designation ordinance for the property.

Would my property qualify for local historic landmark status?

Unfortunately, not all properties over 50 years old are eligible for local landmark designation. The property must have some type of special significance and retain a strong degree of original integrity. The property should meet the Commission criteria: 1) associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; 2) associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; 3) embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or, 4) have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.

What happens after a property is designated as a local historic landmark?

Two things. First, the property becomes subject to the same review process described under Local Historic Districts above. Prior to making changes to any portion of the designated property (including interiors, when designated), the property owner must obtain a COA from the Commission. The Commission has adopted design review guidelines and minor work provisions for landmark properties.

Second, under State law, the property owner may apply with the Forsyth County Tax Office for a 50% property tax deferral for the designated property. The tax deferral runs in perpetuity, unless the integrity of the property is lost or substantially impaired (other than by fire or natural disaster), or because the designation ordinance has been repealed. Each new property owner of a landmark must reapply for the deferral.  

Commission Questions

What is the Forsyth County Historic Resources Commission?

The Commission is Forsyth County’s public agency that is responsible for the county’s landmarks and buildings in the county’s local historic districts. The Commission is involved in all public matters involving historic resources and historic preservation.

The Commission consists of 12 Commissioners and has a 2-member staff, provided by the City-County Planning Board.

When was the Commission created?

The Historic Resources Commission was created in 2001, and was a result of the merger of the Forsyth County Joint Historic Properties Commission and the Winston-Salem Historic District Commission.

The Forsyth County Joint Historic Properties Commission was originally formed in 1976 as the community’s first countywide preservation commission.

The Winston-Salem Historic District Commission was the first historic preservation commission established in North Carolina in 1948. It was responsible for the oversight of the Old Salem Historic District, North Carolina’s first local historic district and the forerunner of today’s State enabling legislation for historic districts and landmarks.

Who are the Commissioners?

According to the ordinance, the 12 Commissioners must include 6 at-large members and one from each of the following categories: 1) an architect licensed in the state of North Carolina; 2) an architectural historian or historic preservationist; 3) an archaeologist, landscape architect/designer, planner, surveyor, or arborist; 4) an Historic (H) District property owner; 5) an Historic Overlay (HO) District property owner; and 6) a Local Historic Landmark (LHL) property owner.

The governing boards appoint the Commission members, and the Commission elects the Chairman and Vice-Chairman.

What are the Commissioners duties?

The Commissioners meet once a month for public meetings on Certificate of Appropriateness applications, public hearings on local historic landmark designations, and to address Commission policies, and review various items regarding historic preservation programs, issues, etc. in the community.

Who are the Commission’s staff?

The Commission staff are supplied by the City-County Planning Board and have educational and professional degrees/experience in historic preservation.

What does the Commission’s staff do?

Commission staff carry out research, make presentations to the Commission, prepare reports on the significance of proposed landmark properties, prepare detailed reports on COA applications, work with applicants who propose alterations in historic districts/landmarks, prepare environmental review reports, administer grants, coordinate activities with the State Historic Preservation Office, prepare educational programs, etc.

Where and when is the place and time of the Commission’s meetings?

The Commission meets the first Wednesday of every month at 4:00 p.m. Meetings are held in the Public Meeting Room, 5th Floor, City Hall South, 100 East First Street, Winston-Salem, NC.

What is a Certified Local Government?

A local government can participate in this program when the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) certifies that the local government has established its own historic preservation commission and a program meeting Federal and State standards. Certified Local Governments (CLGs) are eligible to apply for grants from the SHPO.

At least 10% of the annual Historic Preservation Fund grant to states under the National Historic Preservation Act must be distributed among CLGs. Grants can be used for activities promoting historic preservation, such as architectural surveys, National Register nominations, design review guidelines, etc.

Forsyth County, Winston-Salem, Kernersville, and Clemmons are all CLGs.  

General

How can I date my house and its architectural features?

Determining a date of construction for an old house usually requires both documentary and architectural research. Documentary research that you can do yourself includes reviewing deed and probate information, tax records, and local histories. The North Carolina Room of the Forsyth County Public Library may also have other pertinent information as well as historic photographs. Documentary research can be quite conclusive, but in some cases physical investigation will be necessary to supplement and/or corroborate the documentary evidence. Investigation of the architectural fabric may require a more trained eye and some technical assistance from a preservation professional.

How do I find reliable contractors to work on my historic property?

Both Old House Journal and Traditional Building magazines list contractors and/or companies that provide services for historic homeowners. Other resources to check include trade shows and neighborhood associations. Checking with your neighbors or with someone that has recently done work on their property is also a good source. Remember to always get 3 bids and reliable references from each bidder.

How can I protect my house?

One of the strongest tools for preserving historic buildings and areas is local historic designation. Properties listed as local historic landmarks or located in local historic districts are subject to review before alterations or demolition can take place.

Another powerful preservation tool is the preservation easement. By donating an easement, you give the easement holder the right to prevent all present and future owners from making changes to a historic property that would destroy its historic character, while still retaining other rights of ownership. The value of the easement can then be used as a charitable deduction.

What style is my house?

There are many good architectural style guides available for the public to review at your local public library. Specifically, the Old House Journal magazine is helpful as is the book, A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia and Lee McAlester.

Commission staff maintain a limited library on architectural styles and restoration that may be helpful to you. Please contact us (336) 727-2087) ahead of time to make an appointment.

What color is appropriate for my house?

To determine the correct colors for your house, first identify its architectural style and period of construction. The book Century of Color by Roger Moss and Old House Journal are both excellent resources for information on historically appropriate paint colors.

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