Groups find a way to preserve areas of Charlotte in the midst of development



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Two groups from Charlotte introduce a new way to preserve the city’s history and culture that goes beyond saving buildings in a booming development.

By working with neighboring owners, the groups hope to protect properties from development that hinders the distinctive properties and streetscapes in Mecklenburg County and surrounding communities.

Their first case involved a house in the 300 block of Ridgewood Avenue in Myers Park. It was going to go on sale last year and raised concerns about its impact on the nearby historic garden. If the new owners demolished the house and built a larger one, it could block sunlight from the nearby garden, alter the airflow, and affect the quantity and quality of water.

“We believe that history, culture and retention (…) are essential to the growth of urban areas,” said Tommy Lee, president of Preserve Mecklenburg. “It gives us flexibility and the ability to retain some of the culture and beauty of Charlotte’s neighborhoods. “

Wing Haven Gardens, a non-profit organization that runs Elizabeth Lawrence’s historic home and garden at 348 Ridgewood Ave., contacted Preserve Mecklenburg Inc. for help.

Lawrence, an award-winning author and landscape architect who died in 1985, is considered a prominent figure in Southeastern horticultural history, according to the garden’s website. Preserve Mecklenburg is a non-profit organization founded three years ago. It buys, sells and preserves historic properties in Mecklenburg and the surrounding counties.

While the garden property has been protected on the National Register of Historic Places since 2009, the neighboring property had no historical significance, said Dan Morrill, secretary and co-founder of Preserve Mecklenburg. The garden is sensitive to light, drainage, air quality and air circulation, he said.

“Sometimes preservation also influences development in a way that doesn’t harm neighboring property,” Morrill said.

Andrea Sprott, curator of the Elizabeth Lawrence Home and Garden, examines a large magnolia saucer in the garden on Tuesday. Wing Haven Gardens and Preserve Mecklenburg helped preserve the historic garden at 348 Ridgewood Ave. with a conservation easement on the sale of the neighboring house at 342 Ridgewood Ave. John D. Simmons [email protected]

The two nonprofits therefore collaborated, launching a new model of preservation to protect property streetscapes and separate properties, even those of no historical significance if it impacts neighbors.

The concept should also include the seller’s cooperation and the search for the right buyer.

Warren Way and Elizabeth Rogers, grew up next to their aunt and her nationally recognized garden, inherited this neighboring house. The two live out of town and have decided to sell the family home in Ridgewood.

“We were very interested in this legacy,” Way said of his aunt’s property. “We were interested in preserving the garden and reducing the effect (of the sale of the neighboring house on) the garden. “

The path to preservation

Preserve Mecklenburg marketed the Way / Wilson Ridgewood property and created permanent preservation and conservation easements with the new purchaser to “ensure the life and vitality of the garden, ”Lee said.

“We found someone who shared the concern and was willing to build on the property in a way that minimizes the effect on the garden next door,” Way said.

It took a year for the property to sell. Way said it likely would have sold out in a month without the preservation intervention, but called it win for himself and his sister as sellers, the new owner, the garden and Charlotte.

“In today’s world where we destroy and rebuild and lose a lot of history, I think it means a lot to Charlotte to preserve the history of the garden,” Way said. “My aunt’s work of life has been preserved and it gives Charlotte a bit of history.

The 0.36 acre property next to the garden sold for $ 755,000 on July 1, according to Mecklenburg County property records. The one-story brick house built in 1947 has been demolished.

A large saucer-shaped magnolia tree in the Elizabeth Lawrence house and garden has been given special attention to prevent damage to its roots during construction going on next door. Wing Haven Gardens and Preserve Mecklenburg helped preserve the historic garden at 348 Ridgewood Ave. John D. Simmons [email protected]

“Preserve Mecklenburg has done a really good job of taking everyone’s concerns into account with a viable solution,” Way said.

Now that same concept can be applied to other properties, buildings and streetscapes in Charlotte for neighborhoods deemed culturally significant, not just monuments and historic properties, Lee said.

“We are not against development,” he said. “We love to partner with development and find creative ways to maintain sensitivity and secure a piece of this culture and history that we have in Charlotte.”

Elizabeth Lawrence Garden

The Wing Haven Foundation purchased the Elizabeth Lawrence House and Garden 13 years ago to preserve Lawrence’s legacy.

The garden is permanently conserved by a conservation easement owned by The Garden Conservancy.

“Elizabeth Lawrence was a figure of national significance in the history of gardening,” Morrill said. She has written gardening books and gardening articles for the Charlotte Observer.

The Elizabeth Lawrence House and Garden are open to the public on a guided tour from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, according to its website.

“I would say it’s known nationally among people who are in gardening history,” Morrill said. “This is not a show garden designed to be pretty, even if it contains some pretty plants. She was talking about the science of gardening and writing.

Wing Haven officials could not be reached for comment.

Andrea Sprott, curator of the Elizabeth Lawrence House and Garden, prunes dead plants in the garden on Tuesday. Wing Haven Gardens and Preserve Mecklenburg helped preserve the historic garden when the neighboring property had to be sold. John D. Simmons [email protected]

About Preserve Mecklenburg

Preserve Mecklenburg strives to save Charlotte’s historic buildings by buying them and then selling them with preservation easements so that future owners cannot destroy the historic buildings.

The association has also supported the preservation of other buildings and spaces in Charlotte, such as the Patterson-Logan grocery store in the Washington Heights neighborhood.

Grocery stores are important parts of African American history, Morrill had previously said, as one of the only options for business investment. Charlotte once had over 40 black-owned neighborhood grocery stores.

“I think a mixture of the old and the new is a wonderful thing. And there are a lot of neighborhoods with great culture, great history and stories that should continue to be told throughout their preservation, ”said Lee.

This story was originally published September 29, 2021 at 7:00 a.m.

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Catherine Muccigrosso is the retail journalist for The Charlotte Observer. An award-winning journalist, she worked for several newspapers and McClatchy for over a decade.


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