Last updated: February 11. 2014 4:46PM - 1421 Views
By Jessica Johnson jessicajohnson@civitasmedia.com

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The Mount Airy Downtown Inc. design committee has decided to approach the organization’s full board of directors to request the local historic district be expanded to include the downtown area.

Main Street Coordinator Lizzie Morrison said told the design committee Tuesday such an expansion would help to enforce good design practices and allow MAD to use historic district design guidelines in order to assist with facade grants for downtown businesses.

Amanda Yarboro, who is a member of the MAD design committee as well as a commissioner-appointed member of the Mount Airy Historic Preservation Commission, told the board that most downtown areas in North Carolina area are already incorporated into the local historic districts.

Yarboro assured the board that the local historic district would be separate from the National Register of Historic Places. Right now, the local historic district ends at W. Pine Street, at the beginning of the south end of the downtown area.

“This is a consistent way to enforce things and make sure people are protected. I think our historic commission would be very supportive of adding areas to the local historic district, but ultimately it is up to this board,” Yarboro said.

President of MAD Ted Ashby asked Yarboro and Morrison to compile a list of benefits to adding the downtown area to the historic district, before the MAD board made any decisions about expansion.

Morrison said the “biggest key issue is enforcement of the guidelines” and added that the facade grants “are a way to get people to abide by the guidelines,” but they are not required to follow the guidelines in order to make improvements to their downtown property. The guidelines must be followed only if businesses wish to receive the grant money.

“The biggest benefit is having a way to enforce guidelines in a consistent manner that is not discriminatory in nature. We want to develop guidelines to make sure the downtown is included, as well as educational pieces so we can assist folks with making improvements. We would like to guide them in what is appropriate and what is not, and give this guidance before they make changes to their properties,” Yarboro said.

If the historic district is expanded, any changes to the exterior of the downtown structures must be approved by the Mount Airy Historic Preservation Commission, and would be issued a Certificate of Appropriateness from the planning department before any work could commence. Exterior changes could include facade alterations, signs, removal of vegetation, new construction, and any demolition. According to the city of Mount Airy website, design guidelines “ensure that local landmarks are preserved for future generations.”

A facade is defined by MAD as the exterior side of the building, and each store front can be considered a facade. The rear of the building may also be considered for facade grants, with priority given to the front of the building.

Facade grants offered by MAD provide an incentive to encourage downtown businesses to adopt appropriate design guidelines when they are improving their properties. The guidelines for the grant include “preservation of the unique architectural character ” found in downtown Mount Airy, which may be different for each building, depending on when it was built.

In order to receive the grant money, restoration must comply with the procedures and guidelines set by Mount Airy Downtown, including compliance with Downtown Design Guidelines established in 1997 by the planning department. Design guidelines allow for major and minor rehabilitation, as well as consideration of handicapped accessibility. Facade grant guidelines include details about attached signage, including consideration of material used, location, size, lighting, and color.

Rehabilitation of facades must also respect the “architectural integrity of the entire building and neighboring landscape.” Applications must include a drawing, sketch, or photo of proposed renovations, that specifically identify changes and paint colors, along with existing photos of the facade of the building.

Morrison said all facade grant applications would be reviewed by the planning department and the MAD Board.

The grants are made possible through an appropriation by MAD, and may provide up to 50 percent of the facade restoration per building or business, with the maximum contribution from MAD being no more than $3,000 per grant.

For more information about facade grant applications, visit www.mountairydowntown.org and contact the City of Mount Airy Planning Department at 786-3520.

Reach Jessica Johnson at 719-1933 or on Twitter @MountAiryJess.

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