Now that the Swansboro Historic Preservation Commission and the Swansboro Planning Board have had the chance to review a text amendment that addresses the size and placement of replacement structures in the town’s historic district, the Swansboro Board of Commissioners will have the chance to act.

Andrea Correll, town planner, brought the proposed changes to the historic preservation commission at its meeting on Dec. 20. The change would amend the Unified Development Ordinance, Historic District Design Standards.

She said that the Swansboro Board of Commissioners asked for the matter – “massing regulations” – to be considered.

“At the last board meeting, the downzoning of Water Street was tabled,” Correll said. “They wanted all regulations in place before they considered rezoning.”

With that directive in mind, Correll said she wrote the text amendment and had it reviewed by the state Historic Preservation Office.

She pointed out that the text amendment was written to be defensible.

“It is very likely that we will have someone on the intracoastal waterway challenge us as historic commissioners … at the federal and the state level,” she said.

The intent of the amendment is to assure that new construction is congruous with the “special character of the district.”

A massing regulation – rules that ensure a replacement structure fits in the neighborhood in which it is placed, will help meet that goal.

Under the proposed rule,

an architect will be required to produce a massing study for each replacement structure.

“For you to know what is comparable, you need that massing study,” she told historic preservation commission. The commission has the opportunity to review new construction and renovations in the town’s historic district.

What is comparable is relative, according to comments by Correll. As an example, she used the most recent home built on that section of Water Street, the home/law office of the Charles Lanier family.

In the study of comparative structures produced at that time, the Old Brick Store – perhaps the largest structure in the historic district, but not even within sight of the Lanier building  – was included for comparison,

Correll said the new rules would have not allowed that.

“I’m giving you the ammunition to compare in close proximity,” she explained. “The relationship to building mass shall include nearby buildings in the block and the adjoining open space.”

In comments, Patrick Larkin, chairman of the historic preservation commission, wanted the language to be more definitive. He suggested removing the word “shall encourage,” for example, to simply “shall” to eliminate any ambiguity.

Jonathan McDaniel, commission member, wanted massing study requirements  to be more detailed.

On both suggestions, Correll agreed.

Gregg Casper, an alternate member of the preservation commission, asked about the possibility of including a rule that would require a replacement structure to be built within the footprint of the building it replaces.

That is not possible, according to Correll. She cited state law.

N.C. General Statutes prohibit the town from enacting a law that would require a replacement structure to be built within the footprint of an existing structure, she said.

Swansboro Planning Board had the chance to review the text amendment – as revised by the Swansboro Historic Preservation Commission – when it met on Jan. 3

“It’s about the historic district,” Correll told the planning board. “It’s not about the whole town.”

For the planning board, she referred to the 2022 evaluation of the district.

There are 170 structures in the historic district, according to the evaluation. Of those 88 were listed in the National Register of Historic Places. However, since then, things changed. “Now we have 87.”

The outhouse-post office was dropped from the register. A small structure – considered by history buffs in town to be a town treasure – has been painted and repaired, but it has been moved and is no longer cited in the district.

As she has done previously when discussing amendments that relate to rules, Correll said clarity is critical.

 “In my experience … the most important thing you can do for the town of Swansboro is to establish the intent,” she told the planning board.

Laurent Meilleur, a planning board member, asked the board members to consider adding a section that states intent. (See related item.)

The planning board reviewed the text amendment forwarded by the Swansboro Historic Preservation Commission and Meilleur’s proposed addition.

“I think your statement makes it stronger,” said Scott Chadwick, planning board chair.

It establishes intent and enforcement, according to Chadwick. He then motioned to recommend approval of the draft, with the statement.

After he provided a second and the matter was open for discussion, Edward Binanay, planning board member, asked Correll to walk him through the process.

The text amendment – with Correll’s involvement – would provide a framework for size and scale.

“I’m like an application tour guide,” she said.

Correll said she would work with owners of property wishing to either replace or renovate a structure to ensure that the massing rule is followed.

The motion to recommend approval passed unanimously.

Now that the planning board has had the chance to review the text amendment, it will go to the board of commissioners for consideration.

The planning board acts in an advisory capacity. The board of commissioners has final say on text amendments.

According to a legal notice in the Tideland, the commissioners will host a public hearing on the text amendment and could take action when they meet on Monday, Jan. 23.

Email Jimmy Williams at jimmy@tidelandnews.com.

Purchase a copy of the Jan. 18, 2023, Tideland News for more on this story.

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