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Planners cool to historic property tax breaks

Planning Board members Marilyn Gordon, Rick Livingston and Steve Dozier. Planning Board members Marilyn Gordon, Rick Livingston and Steve Dozier.

After working for six years on a way to recognize historic landmarks, the Henderson County Historic Resources Commission sent to the Planning Board a draft ordinance that would allow the county to grant historic preservation tax breaks.


The Henderson County Planning Board was decidedly cool to the idea.
"I'm real hesitant about it," board member Marilyn Gordon said during a Planning Board meeting on Feb. 27. "I would prefer that it be more voluntarily, where you can have a plaque."
The Planning Board lacked a quorum so it could not vote. But among the four members present, no one expressed support for the Historic Preservation Ordinance. Instead, members raised a variety of objections.
"I know from a fire protection standpoint, these properties present some of our biggest challenges," said board member Rick Livingston, who is also Mills River fire chief.
The Planning Board members were reacting to a planning staff report showing that the county has 543 structures more than 100 years old, 2,572 more than 75 years old and 9,619 more than 50 years old. The report also showed that Asheville and Buncombe County defer almost $1 million a year in property taxes for 116 properties that have the historic tax credit.
Hendersonville has 54 properties in historic districts but only two that currently receive the historic tax credit. (A third was added by the City Council this month.) Flat Rock adopted a Historic Landmark Ordinance last year and has granted the tax exemption to two historic homes — Dunroy and Beaumont.
"After all we've gone through I can't understand why they would not be behind an ordinance that makes the county look good and can do nothing but good," said Don Wilson, who is on the county Historic Resources Commission. Members of the historic board have expressed frustration that their efforts lack support from the Board of Commissioners, even through the elected board created the historic group and appointed its members. The board surveyed dozens of old homes and buildings in the county and identified eight that could apply for the tax credit.
"They're concerned about the tax savings that will be detrimental to the county revenue but that amounts to virtually nothing," Wilson said. "We're talking about maybe a half dozen over a period of a half dozen years. Give me a break. Without that ordinance being passed there will be no incentive for historic preservation in Henderson County whatsoever."
State law authorizes cities and counties to recognize a historic landmark based on the property's "special significance in terms of its historical, prehistorical, architectural or cultural importance." Once a city or county grants historic landmark status, the property owner is eligible to apply for a tax deferment of 50 percent.
"I'm disappointed," Historic Resources Commission Chair Susan Shepherd Sneeringer said after the Planning Board meeting. "We were created in 2005 and they're really not that interested in it."
Wilson said he expects the Historic Resources Commission to draft a statement to the Planning Board before the planners meet again, expressing strong support for the preservation ordinance.
The proposed ordinance sets up an approval process requiring many steps before a property would win historic landmark status. An application would be reviewed by the planning department, then the Historic Resources Commission and the state Division of Historical Resources. The Zoning Board of Adjustment would hold a hearing and make a recommendation that would then go to the Board of Commissioners.
Most of the 117 parcels that have the historic tax credit in Buncombe County are condos in historic buildings downtown, said Linda Brown, land records manager for the Buncombe County Tax Department.
The Grove Park Inn and Biltmore estate do not receive the historic tax credit. Most of the city-owned Grove Arcade downtown does not have the tax credit but part of it under a 100-year lease does, she said.
"There are a lot of historic properties that do not get the exemption because they do not want anybody telling them what to do with their property," she said. "Some people that have historic property have told me I don't want to have to go through anybody before I do anything with my property."