A major Winston-Salem property developer is in a stalemate with the city’s historic preservation department.
The conflict stems from signs placed on the former Twin City Motor Company Building, a local historic landmark that is now occupied by entertainment venue Roar and Piedmont Federal Savings Bank. Mayfair Street Partners, which owns the building, says the signs were already installed when they bought it — they just changed out the panels. But Michelle McCullough, the city and county’s historic preservation officer, says that doesn’t matter.
“The signage was a remnant from the 1960s, the building had been designated for its historic significance in the 20s and its architecture from that period," says McCullough. "So this signage was not appropriate.”
The city asked Mayfair to take them down or replace the signs with something more historically appropriate. Mayfair refused. The two parties went back and forth for several months, until finally, the city said it would soon begin issuing fines. That’s when Simon Burgess with Mayfair took to social media to vent his frustrations about the situation. He says it’s about more than just the signs.
“I just think the bullying tactics from the city, in particular the historical department, when we're employing nearly 100 people and we saved a building that would have been demolished over two signs is so petty. I can't believe it," he says.
Burgess has experience renovating buildings designated as local historic landmarks in Winston-Salem. That status can significantly reduce the tax burden for developers. But Burgess says he’s discouraging others from getting the designation in the first place, particularly for smaller projects.
“It’s not worth the hassle and the restrictions you have to go through," he says.
McCullough says what’s happened with Mayfair is the exception, not the rule. She says 95% of applications for building changes were approved last year. And when there are denials, she says the city works with the property owner to come to an agreement; fines are extremely rare. She acknowledged that it can be financially difficult for property owners to comply with some of their rules but says that’s why they are getting a tax break.
“That money is to help it keep it historic and make it more historic, because sometimes we have buildings that have had changes that make it a little less historic," she says.
For his part, Burgess says he hasn’t seen significant tax savings from the program yet. He says he’s still not planning to take the signs down or pay any fines. The city can refer the matter to the court system if that happens, though McCullough says she doesn’t think that’s ever been done before.