Town’s opposition doesn’t stop Zebulon historic district | The Enterprise
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Town’s opposition doesn’t stop Zebulon historic district

Posted on June 18, 2021

Local news
Preservation Zebulon board members celebrate with cake, champagne and sparkling cider after the group's bid to get a portion of Zebulon approved as a historic district received another approval. In the back row from left are Season Atkinson, Marvin Howell and Tommy Massey. In the middle row from left are Ruth Moss, Patricia Roberson, MaryBeth Carpenter and Scott Carpenter. Standing in front is Taylor Gray.

Contributed photo

Preservation Zebulon board members celebrate with cake, champagne and sparkling cider after the group's bid to get a portion of Zebulon approved as a historic district received another approval. In the back row from left are Season Atkinson, Marvin Howell and Tommy Massey. In the middle row from left are Ruth Moss, Patricia Roberson, MaryBeth Carpenter and Scott Carpenter. Standing in front is Taylor Gray.

arevels@wakeweekly.com

ZEBULON — The Zebulon Historic District moved closer to becoming a reality last week despite pushback from the town and the county’s historic preservation committee.

The N.C. National Register Advisory Committee on June 10 unanimously approved the Zebulon Historic District for recommendation to the National Parks Service for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The park service will make a final decision this summer.

Proponents celebrated the vote.

“We are thrilled that the Zebulon Historic District is finally approved,” said MaryBeth Carpenter, executive director of nonprofit Preservation Zebulon, which submitted the nomination. “It was a long process with a few obstacles, but it’s really a great thing for Zebulon.”

Preservation Zebulon sought historic district designation for 300 buildings across 160 acres in downtown Zebulon. Carpenter said the group has heard from more than 100 residents who were happy to hear the district was recommended.

“We are disappointed and dumbfounded that the town failed to support this,” she added.

On June 7, the Zebulon Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to ask the advisory committee to table the nomination so the town could amend the proposed district’s boundaries. The planning board and the Wake County Historic Preservation Commission sent similar requests.

Critics expressed concern that communities of color weren’t included.

Michael Clark, Zebulon planning director, said the town supports historic preservation as long as it’s through an open and transparent public process. He said the town was disappointed the advisory committee approved the proposed district.

“We would have preferred to have the opportunity to work collaboratively with the applicant, the State Historic Preservation Office, and the citizens and property owners of Zebulon in a fully inclusive and transparent process to establish one or multiple historic districts that would have better reflected the architectural and cultural history of Zebulon,” Clark said.

During the advisory committee’s June 10 meeting, Sarah David with the State Historic Preservation Office addressed those concerns.

Newer buildings are often located among historic buildings in historically Black areas, which would result in too many non-contributing structures to be included in the district, she said. David specifically pointed to an area on Shepard School Road where modern mobile homes were located next to historic homes.

There’s a possibility for a second historic district in that area, David said. However, none of the historically Black areas of Zebulon are very connected due to modern development, she added.

Committee member Valerie Ann Johnson said it’s a national issue resulting from a wealth gap and racial disparities.

“These areas we want to preserve are very vulnerable, often because of low wealth,” Johnson said. “We’re looking at the consequences of policies that are discriminatory.”

This prompted a long discussion about how the National Register and the advisory committee could better communicate with communities of color and prompt them to nominate historical districts.

Johnson felt David had addressed her concerns with the allegations that communities of color were being excluded.

Committee Chair Alicia McGill also mentioned that the committee received several letters of support, which was atypical for a historic district. Normally, the committee only receives letters of support from the historic preservation committee and the municipality, McGill said.

The advisory committee unanimously approved the district, which includes 318 contributing resources built between 1906-71. The district would be the second-largest in Wake County but would be average among the more than 550 historic districts throughout the state, David said during the meeting.

Being listed on the National Register lets property owners apply for historic restoration tax credits.

Carpenter thanked Preservation Zebulon’s supporters, especially those who funded the nomination and those who wrote letters.

“PZ is proud to partner with our community, and we look forward to doing more great things together,” she said.

The nomination will be submitted to the Keeper of the National Register, a federal position within the National Park Service, according to Michelle Walker, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. The keeper will review the nomination and decide whether to list the district within 15-45 days.

“The final listing authority rests with the Keeper of the National Register at the federal level,” Walker said.

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