In a special meeting Dec. 8, Swansboro Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously to approve a motion urging town commissioners to fund an assistant to the planner.
Specifically, the historic preservation commission wants staff who can help Jennifer Ansell, town planner, in her role as code enforcement officer in the Swansboro Historic District.
The action came out of a planning session to find ways to make the town’s historic preservation efforts more effective. The meeting took place in-person at Swansboro Town Hall. The regular meeting of Dec. 21 was canceled.
“This meeting today can be about problem-solving,” said Patrick Larkin, chairman of the commission.
He asked the membership to consider the action items that were identified in a recent joint meeting between the preservation commission and the Swansboro Board of Commissioners.
The need for the additional staff was one item identified in the joint meeting.
The joint meeting in September was called in response to concern over the potential loss of historic structures and the fear that, with the loss of too many, the town could lose its historic district status.
In addition to providing additional staff for “better enforcement,” action items identified at the meeting included educating historic property owners and the public, ensuring town boards work together, rewriting design requirements, creating a preservation fund and/or preservation incentives, improving guidelines and zoning ordinances, and considering regulations to curb “demolition by neglect.”
Larkin wanted the members of the historic preservation commission to consider the items in terms of, “What is on the road map ahead.”
Jeff Conway – elected to the board of commissioners in November – was serving in his final meeting as a member of the historic preservation commission. He said he believed education is the key.
“If we get to education first a lot of your other problems are going to be solved,” he said.
Maintaining a partnership with the Swansboro Historical Association, a private nonprofit group that supports historic preservation in Swansboro, would be helpful, according to several members of the commission.
Christina Ramsey, commission member, said educating the public is important.
“Naturally, as a former teacher, I sincerely believe education is essential to produce responsible, desirable citizens,” she said following the meeting. “Swansboro is fortunate to have many conscientious, well-informed citizens who are dedicated to protecting the integrity of the historic downtown area. That downtown area is the feature that may draw visitors and future residents to Swansboro, so it is a vital contributor to a healthy local economy. All residents want that.”
Ramsey said she supports the idea of the town partnering with the State Historic Preservation Office staff as well as with “our local knowledgeable and dedicated citizens to increase awareness of the importance of maintaining Swansboro’s historic resources.”
She liked the idea of partnering with the Swansboro Historical Association in reaching out to citizens.
“A workshop would contribute to that awareness goal,” Ramsey said. “The challenge is to get people who need to increase their awareness and knowledge to attend. Planners of the proposed workshop and other future efforts should focus on that to achieve real success.”
April Clark, commission member, suggested that all stakeholders – property owners, realtors and contractors – be part of the educational outreach.
“It is fundamental for ensuring adherence and compliance to existing HPC guidelines and requirements for restoration and repair of historic properties in the district,” she explained.
A key to preservation success, Clark said, will be establishing “common goals” among the commission, town staff, the Swansboro Historical Association and the board of commissioners.
“If we – the HPC and the community – want to be successful in the preservation and protection of the historic district, we must communally establish a vision for the historic district, develop goals and actionable items to achieve our desired outcome,” she said.
Relative to cooperation with the Swansboro Historical Association, Clark said, “Sending a representative from each organization to the other’s meetings would allow for continuity, consistency and historical context and relevance.”
In comments after the meeting, Conaway agreed with the idea of improving interaction among town agencies.
“We need to have more interaction and joint meetings with the Swansboro Historical Association and ensure the business owners, realtors, district residents and town residents all understand that they are invited and encouraged to attend,” he said. “We need to do a better job of educating the public on the benefits we receive from having a historic district and how to keep the district thriving.”
Conaway said that under current rules, the historic preservation commission cannot stop property owners from demolishing a historic structure.
And in many cases, owners claim the property is in such disrepair, it can’t be saved. That is a situation the town could address by being pro-active. accoridng to Conaway.
“We need a strong enforceable demolition-by-neglect ordnance to stop structures from falling into an un-repairable status and being demolished,” Conaway explained.
Other ideas that were discussed include surveying stakeholders to determine what they would like to learn or need to know and how the Historic Preservation Commission can help.
The preservation commission will also consider host semi-annual workshops for property owners and others. These meetings could include experts like John Wood of the State Preservation Office.
Communication through Facebook and other social media will also be considered as a way to provide “informational Historic Preservation Commission snippets” and other educational material.
Email Jimmy Williams at email@example.com.