Surry weighs historic district implications

Published 11:39 am Wednesday, May 17, 2017

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

SURRY — Surry County officials have concerns about a bid by the town of Surry to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.

The Surry Board of Supervisors on Monday decided to refer the issue to its attorney to check on the legality of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources including an area outside the town limits within the proposed historic district.  

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Surry District Supervisor John Seward said the county is concerned about an area, called Davis town, being included in the district, although it lies outside town limits.

Seward said the county is also concerned about a future town council adding an additional layer of regulation on buildings located inside in what would be the historic district, but owned by Surry County. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The additional regulations would be like those in Smithfield, which in addition to being a historic district, has a historic preservation ordinance. The ordinance allows Smithfield to regulate the upkeep of certain properties deemed contributing to the historic character of the town or having landmark status.

As for Davis town, the county has applied for federal funds for infrastructure improvements, and it’s the use of federal funds that triggers reviews by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Seward said.

The Virginia Department of Historic Resources held a public hearing on Surry’s pending historic register status on May 8 at the Surry Town Hall.

A final decision is expected on June 15, according to a notice from VDHR.

Seward said the Surry County Board of Supervisors doesn’t have an official response because it was unaware that the application had been made. The lack of knowledge also means Surry County residents were also unaware, Seward said.

“We were left out of the process,” he said, adding that the county has eight days before the June 15 deadline to respond. A letter written by staff with some concerns will remain in force at this time, Seward said.

The Board will take up the issue again at its June 1 meeting, Seward said.

Former Surry Town Council member William Roach said he’s disappointed that the county is trying to “undermine” the town’s push for historic status.

Seward said he believes Davis town was included because an African-
American component boosts the town’s stature as historic.

Davis town is a mostly black neighborhood.

When the town applied for historic recognition, it stated that, “the town’s physical resources of historical significance are presently left unprotected and it would certainly be unfortunate if the physical character of the town is lost or otherwise irreparably damaged in the interim as a result of unprincipled outside development,” according to an excerpt provided by former Town Council member William Roach.

Plus it will likely increase tourism, given the proximity of the town of Surry with Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown, Roach said.

The town is eligible for the National Register for the role it played as a county seat in the settlement of the region and the range of building styles in the town, according to the VDHR.

The Surry County Courthouse complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

Once on the registers, the town then becomes a historic district.

VDHR spokesman Randy Jones said property owners would only be impacted by federal regulations if work to be done included federal funds.

That also applies to buildings eligible for national historic status, he added.

The town of Surry has been eligible to be on the historic register since 2013, Roach said.

Jones stressed that being added to the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register is an honorary designation and does not place restrictions on private property owners.

At the same time, property owners can qualify for federal and state tax credits, according to information provided by the VDHR.

Property owners proposing improvements or activities with designated or eligible properties and using federal funds would be required to follow Section 106 regulations under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

Seward is concerned that Davis town, now considered “eligible” would require the additional layer of review regardless of whether its included in the historic district boundaries or not.

Section 106 calls for additional layers of public involvement and mitigation of adverse effects, according to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

There are numerous properties in Surry County that are listed on the Historic Registers, including the Surry County Courthouse Complex, Smith’s Fort Plantation, Bacon’s Castle, Four Mile Tree Plantation, Pleasant Point and the Glebe House of Southwark Parish, among others.  {/mprestriction}