Rural Mecklenburg County: Summary of Existing Conditions

The preceding summaries indicate that important rural resources still exist. Their locations, shown as dots on the following map, also indicate the urgency of their protection. The increasing boundaries of Charlotte have already engulfed many properties, and the ring created by I-485 (shown in dotted line) will disturb many more. Several pockets of relatively well preserved rural resources exist: the Community House area, Steele Creek, Paw Creek, Hopewell Church - Rural Hill, Ramah Church, Mallard Creek, and Arlington Church. Of these the most threatened are the Community House, Mallard Creek, and Steele Creek areas. The Hopewell Church and Ramah Church areas exhibit the most potential for preservation.

The threats to these resources are usually in the form of sprawling development. Such growth obliterates historic and natural areas that define the character of our community. The character of a place helps to make it more successful, not only from an economic standpoint, but from a quality of life viewpoint as well. What makes Charlotte-Mecklenburg a good place to live? Certainly its burgeoning economy; but also its optimistic attitude, interesting places, and urban/rural contrasts. These things are part of the character of the area. The character of this place defines our daily lives. It is a resource to use, enjoy, and protect.

The history of Mecklenburg County plays an important part in its present character and success. It provides opportunities for education and creative interpretation. The history and character of Mecklenburg County are found in its buildings and landscapes. Until this century, the patterns of everyday life in Mecklenburg County were rural. Thus, their history is found in rural resources. These must be protected if future citizens are to understand how the region became the metropolis it is today. The time has come to decide if today's sprawling development will define who and what we will become or if we will be able to manage growth in such a way as to preserve and enhance our vernacular landscape heritage.

Map of Mecklenburg County Showing Locations of Rural Properties

Scroll around to see the entire map.

Small dots indicate property locations
Dotted line indicates future location of I-485

Existing Conditions in Rural Mecklenburg County

  • Rural Properties Still Exist
  • Many Rural Properties Are Threatened
  • Many Rural Properties Have Already Been Engulfed by Urban Development
  • The History of Mecklenburg County Plays an Important Role in its Present Character and Success
  • The History of Mecklenburg County was Rural Until the Early Part of This Century
  • The Community House area, Steele Creek, Paw Creek, Hopewell Church - Rural Hill, Ramah Church, Mallard Creek, and Arlington Church are well preserved pockets of Rural Mecklenburg County
  • The Hopewell Church - Rural Hill and Ramah Church areas present the most opportunities for preservation efforts
  • We must manage growth in order to preserve and enhance our vernacular landscape heritage

    Mechanisms and Techniques2

    Once it is determined that our historic properties are crucial to the character of Charlotte - Mecklenburg and that the character must be preserved, we must plan for their protection. Rural preservation has multiple aspects and a variety of techniques used by hundreds of other communities throughout the United States. As mentioned previously, natural resources are an important part of the rural character, but this report concentrates on the Historic Landmarks Commission's area of responsibility -- historic resources. The following techniques will often protect natural areas as well as historic resources. This sort of overlap should be actively sought and encouraged since it will provide the best preservation of the rural character of Mecklenburg County as a whole.

    This summary of preservation techniques is not to be taken as a complete list or even a complete explanation of each method. Instead, it is offered as a synopsis of what other communities have used to preserve their historic and natural resources. It also offers a few ideas as to how these techniques can fit into a rural historic preservation program for Mecklenburg County.


    The legal basis of historic preservation governmental regulations is in the local government's police power, specifically in zoning authority. Historic preservation has long been viewed by the courts as part of the local government's right to protect the health, safety, morals, and welfare of its citizens. Zoning can also provide a critical preservation tool. Special zoning classifications might be developed for important rural areas. One example of a creative zoning technique is large lot zoning. This means that lots are 10 or 20 acres rather than the typical 1 to 3 acres. These classifications could enforce appropriate setbacks, height requirements, and densities for new construction so as to preserve the rural character of an area. Zoning can also be used in conjunction with Open Space Design by providing for cluster development. Any program of zoning should be a coordinated effort between the city-county government and the governments of the county's small towns which have their own zoning spheres.

    Public Acquisition

    The fate of any property ultimately lies in the hands of the owner. Therefore, sympathetic owners should be sought for important rural resources. One way of achieving this goal is for the local government to purchase important rural properties. This does not mean that all rural properties can or should be transformed into museums. Other alternatives are within the power of the local government. As new parks are created, the obvious locations for these facilities would be on the sites of significant historic and natural rural resources. New schools, libraries, public housing, and other public institutions can also be built at rural properties if they are sympathetically placed using the principles of Open Space Design to ensure the character of the property is not harmed.

    Transfer of Development Rights

    Although not widely used as of yet, Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) can be an effective way for local governments to preserve open space and rural resources. The idea of TDR's comes from the "bundle of rights" concept in real estate. The basic principle is that the owner of real estate owns a series or bundle of rights associated with that property. One of those rights is his/her right to develop or build on the land. A "downzoned" area is designated where landowners may sell only the right to develop their land (one stick out of their bundle of rights). These rights may be transferred to an appropriate site which will be more heavily developed than otherwise allowed. For example, Joe, Mary, and Fred all own property in the Ramah Church area of Mecklenburg County. Suppose the Ramah Church area is designated by the local governing body to be a downzoned area. This allows Joe, Mary, and Fred to sell their rights to develop their Ramah Church property to Developer Bill who may transfer these rights to his location near South Park that was designated as an appropriate "receiving" area by the local government. TDRs allow for the protection of the rural character of certain areas without preventing profit to the owner. It is advantageous to developers because they may develop prime areas more heavily than their competitors. The drawbacks are that it is a cumbersome legal process and requires trained staff to administer it. Comprehensive public education programs are also required.

    Historic Districts and Landmarks

    The concept of designating local historic districts and landmarks constitutes traditional historic preservation philosophy. In North Carolina, either option, or a combination of the two methods, is possible.

    A local historic district is an area with multiple properties that has been designated via local ordinance as historically significant. Once designated, the properties (including buildings, landscapes, etc.) are subject to the process of design review. Design review is carried out by the local historic district commission and ensures that any remodeling or new construction within the district will not negatively impact its historic character. The advantage of this method is that it deals directly with the concept of communities or neighborhoods as whole entities. Thus, it is well suited to rural preservation, because it attempts to protect vernacular landscapes and areas with many resources and features. In Mecklenburg County, the City of Charlotte and the Town of Davidson both have historic district commissions. It is important that the most serious consideration be given to the creation of historic district commissions in the other outlying communities and in the unincorporated sections of Mecklenburg County.

    A locally designated historic landmark is a property deemed to be individually significant and designated as historic via a local ordinance. Although this method is used for individual properties, it is not restricted to just one building. Rather, a landmark may encompass pertinent outbuildings, structures, and landscapes. Once designated, the property is subject to design review by the local historic landmark commission. This commission may also delay issuing a certificate of appropriateness for demolition of a designated building for up to 365 days, and local government may acquire a landmark through eminent domain to prevent its demolition. A further advantage of landmark designation is the opportunity for the landmarks commission to purchase endangered landmarks.

    The Charlotte - Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission has jurisdiction over all of Mecklenburg County except the towns of Pineville and Cornelius. The Landmarks Commission should seek authorization to serve those two communities as well. This is critical to the comprehensive nature desired in the designation of local landmarks. Another important feature of this commission is the revolving fund held by the commission. This money is available to purchase endangered landmarks, rehabilitate them, and sell to sympathetic owners with protective covenants. The returns from such projects are placed back into the fund for future use. The advantage of such a system is that the commission is not restrained by the necessity to make a profit. Political and economic realities dictate that losses are kept to a minimum, however.

    The Charlotte - Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks has demonstrated the effectiveness of its revolving fund. However, the financial constraints of its present revolving fund are somewhat restrictive in terms of participation in projects of the scale necessary for rural preservation. Therefore, if landmark designation and the Landmarks Commission's involvement in revolving fund schemes be deemed an effective preservation technique, consideration should be given to increasing the leveling of funding for the current revolving fund.