No “Cherry Picking” for Local Historic District Commissions

by Poyner Spruill LLP
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The North Carolina Court of Appeals has recently re-affirmed that local historic district commissions must look at the entire historic district in determining whether a proposed development project is congruous with the historic district in question. Likewise, the personal preferences of individual commission members should not be considered in determining congruity.

In Sanchez v. Town of Beaufort (filed on May 3, 2011), a property owner proposed to demolish an existing structure located within the Town of Beaufort’s Historic District that was in complete disrepair. In its place, the property owner proposed to construct a new one and a half story structure that was roughly 11 feet taller than the existing structure. Despite the property owner presenting substantial evidence that surrounding structures in the historic district were between 26 and 35 feet tall, the Beaufort Historic Preservation Commission (“BHPC”) refused to grant the project a certificate of appropriateness unless the developer agreed to reduce the height from 27 feet, inches to 24 feet. The developer appealed the BHPC’s decision to the Beaufort Board of Adjustment (“BOA”). The BOA reversed the BHPC’s decision on the grounds that the 24-foot height requirement was arbitrary and not supported by the evidence in the record. The BOA ordered the HPC to issue a certificate of appropriateness for the 27 foot, 3 inch structure.

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