History buffs urge Macon to protect landmarks
Members of a heritage task force in Macon County want town and county leaders to form a commission with regulatory powers to protect historical districts and landmarks.
The creation of a historic preservation commission would mark the first such joint protection effort in the state’s seven westernmost counties. Waynesville and Canton have municipal historic preservation commissions, but Haywood County and Maggie Valley do not. Other counties and towns in this region also haven’t enacted the state legislation that allows elected leaders to form commissions and designate local historic districts and landmarks.
“Everyone realizes that we’re growing fast and furiously,” said Franklin Town Alderman Sissy Pattillo. “I think all of us want to preserve what we have. Once we lose it we can’t get it back.”
Pattillo said she believes her fellow elected leaders will be receptive to forming a commission.
What it could mean
Buncombe County and Asheville formed a joint commission in 1979, and today has four local districts and 45 individually designated landmarks.
Stacy Merten, director of the Asheville-Buncombe County Historic Resources Commission, said the commission conducts design reviews when someone plans a change to their property in a designated district or to a landmark. Landmarks are individual sites that don’t fall within a district.
Rules in historic districts can vary. In Biltmore Village, for instance, exterior color must be one contained in a pre-approved palette. That isn’t the case in Asheville’s and Buncombe County’s other three districts.
Merten said she believes that most people in the county and city understand the need for historic preservation. In addition to preservation for history’s sake, she said such efforts could bring economic benefits to an area by triggering reinvestment in neighborhoods that have deteriorated.
“There are still some people who complain,” Merten said. “They just don’t like that there are people telling them what to do, and they don’t like going through the process.”
Identifying what’s left
The first task the state mandates for newly designated commissions is to inventory historic resources. That’s badly needed in Macon County, said Tony Angel of the Macon County Historic Task Force.
Angel said that since 1982, Highlands alone has had 21 structures destroyed that were on the inventory of the National Register of Historic Places. He said historic experts in Highlands have identified up to 125 more buildings worthy of protection. The formation of a historic preservation commission would help provide some safeguards, he said.
Angel also cited the need to protect historic structures in other parts of the county.
Leesa Brandon, a development officer in the state’s Division of Tourism, agreed that there is much left in Macon County worthy of protection, including many of the sites in the Cowee community north of Franklin.
“It is phenomenal,” Brandon said.
In addition to Cowee Mound, an example of the Mississippian mound-building period of American Indians, the Cowee-West Mill community is home to a historic inn, an early 20th century African-American church and other structures.
The community is on the federal National Register, but that designation is honorary rather than protective.
Members of the county’s historic task force hope to talk to the Franklin Town Board in June and to the Highlands town board in July, Angel said.
During an April 9 presentation to the Macon County Board of Commissioners, he said the group asked commissioners to think about forming a historic preservation commission, have staff study the issue, and talk with their constituents to judge county-wide interest in the idea.
Angel said they hope for “a plan of action” in six months or sooner.