Just blocks away from downtown Lynchburg, a proposed historic district is poised to boost a new development of loft apartments.

A new historic district consisting of six industrial buildings near the 600 and 700 block of 12th Street has been nominated for inclusion on both the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places. If approved this would make those buildings eligible for state and federal historic tax credits, giving developers a financial incentive to complete major renovations on the properties.

According to Katie Gutshall, a preservation planner with the Roanoke-based firm Hill Studio that prepared the district’s application, the push to create the district now came both from the area’s roots as an industrial center dating back to the second half of the 19th century and real estate developer Danny George eyeing 712 12th Street for a renovation project.

George, the project manager for 115 room Virginian Hotel set to open next spring on Church Street, previously told The News & Advance in December 2017 he aimed to turn the 18,000 square foot former Virginia Laundry Facility building into 29 two bedroom loft apartments. He could not be reached for comment about the historic district.

According to the district’s nomination form submitted to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the buildings that make up the district previously served as a tobacco warehouses and commercial laundry facilities. The oldest building in the 2.5 acre district, called the Knight Building, is located at 612 12th Street and is a former tobacco warehouse dating back to 1845. It is the last of the 19 tobacco factories used as hospitals during the Civil War left standing in Lynchburg.

Mike Pulice, an architectural historian with the VDHR, said there are not many examples of industrial buildings of this type left in the state.

“[These buildings] are really good examples of brick masonry style industrial buildings,” Pulice said. “Most of that kind of stuff has really been lost. I know there’s still a lot left in Lynchburg, but the majority of them are gone now so in the big picture they are rare specimens of their types.”

If the district is approved, it will be the 11th historic district in Lynchburg, which also has historic districts in neighborhoods such as Garland Hill, Daniel’s Hill, Rivermont and other old areas of the city, according to Anne Nygaard with the city’s planning division. City Planner Tom Martin is supportive of the district being approved and the use of tax credits to encourage development in older areas of the city.

“I think Lynchburg has a very rich and diverse history and I think anything we can do to encourage people to rehabilitate older buildings and preserve them is very good thing for the city as a whole,” Martin said. “Having these area designated as a state or national area is just another tool to revitalize areas through tax credits.

According to Pulice, the district was deemed eligible for consideration in September of 2017 and will be considered by VDHR’s State Review board at its March 15th meeting. If approved, Pulice expects it to be listed on both registers by the end of May “at the latest”.

The Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic places use the same criteria for determining if sites should be listed or not, Pulice said. Once it is approved by the state it will go to the National Parks Service, which manages the National Register of Historic Places, for review.

Being listed on the register is honorary and will not protect the buildings from being demolished or renovated beyond recognition by their owners, Pulice said. Although, if developers would like to be able to take advantage of the federal and state historic tax credits that can be up to 45 percent of the total rehabilitation cost of the building, they must maintain the historic character of the structure.

“The state and national registry does not generally place any restrictions or obligations or protections on the area because it cannot interfere with the owners property rights,” Pulice said. “They do protect from federally sponsored projects, like pipelines, power lines and anything that has federal money going into it so the state and national provide some level of protection, but the only way to protect a building from its owner is at the local level.”

According to Nygaard, if the city wishes to levy additional protections on historic areas it can also “overlay” the state and federal historic district with a local historic district designation that puts more restrictions on what alterations can be made to the area. According to city code, no alterations or demolitions that affect the external appearance to properties in a historic district created by the local government are allowed without a “certificate of appropriateness” being issued by either City Council or the Historic Preservation Commission.

There are currently eight historic districts designated by the city of Lynchburg, which include Court House Hill, Daniel’s Hill, Diamond Hill, Garland Hill, Federal Hill, Pierce Street Renaissance, Rivermont and the campus of the Virginia University of Lynchburg, according to the city’s website.

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