The following is a brick streets policy proposal crafted by a joint task force composed of Residents of Old Wilmington and Historic Wilmington Foundation representatives. It was sent to Wilmington City leadership urging its incorporation into the City’s brick streets policy which is currently being reviewed and discussed.
A COMPREHENSIVE PRESERVATION POLICY FOR WILMINGTON’S STREETS PAVED WITH HISTORIC MATERIALS
Proposed by Historic Wilmington Foundation and Residents of Old Wilmington
- IMPORTANCE AND BENEFITS OF WILMINGTON’S BRICK STREETS
According to the City’s recent study, Wilmington has approximately 6 miles of streets and alleys paved with historic paving materials. Approximately 4 miles are paved with historic brick pavers, cobblestones, or asphalt paving bricks and approximately 2 miles are mixed historic pavers and asphalt. The City also has historic slate and granite curbing. Many of the streets paved with these historic materials are more than 100 years old. [In this paper, the term “brick streets” includes streets paved with all the historic paving materials listed above.]
Wilmington’s brick streets are important historic, cultural and economic assets of the City. They define historic districts and are part of what is unique about Wilmington.
Brick streets contribute significantly to the economy of Wilmington and New Hanover County. They attract and support heritage tourism, a multi-million dollar industry. (According to TripAdvisor, the historic districts, where exposed brick streets are concentrated, are the third most popular tourist destination in the Wilmington area.) Brick streets also enhance the local economy by attracting the film industry, which uses brick streets in filming.
Brick streets are very cost effective long term. A properly laid brick street can last 150 years or more with minimal maintenance, while an asphalt street, especially those in high traffic areas, may last as little as 12 to 15 years and may require extensive maintenance. In the 1970s, when Wilmington began covering its decades old brick streets with asphalt, most were still very serviceable. The aggregate long term costs associated with the construction and maintenance of brick streets are substantially less than the aggregate long term costs of construction, maintenance and periodic resurfacing of asphalt streets. (J. Bedard, “Follow the Red Brick Road,” Masters of Urban Planning Program, University of Buffalo, 2008, pp.10-11; Columbia OH, “Brick Street Policy Resolution FAQs,” 2011, pp. 1-2.)
Brick streets have considerable aesthetic appeal and enhance property values. Studies find that brick streets may increase property values of developed adjacent properties by 25 to 33 % and undeveloped lots by 200%. (J. Bedard, p. 9.)
Brick streets provide significant traffic calming. They lower driving speeds and thus reduce accidents. A Winter Park Florida study found that average traffic speeds dropped from 41 mph to 29 mph after streets were restored to brick. (J. Bedard, pp. 2-3; Columbia OH Brick Street FAQs, p. 3.)
Brick streets are more environmentally friendly than asphalt streets. They are more permeable and thus mitigate storm water runoff. (J. Bedard, pp. 4, 8-9.) They also are cooler than heat generating asphalt.
- WILMINGTON’S CURRENT AND PROPOSED BRICK STREET POLICIES
Currently, it is the City’s policy to preserve brick streets in specified local historic districts. The current Brick Street Policy, adopted in 1987, states: “All brick streets located in the Historic District (HD) and the Historic District Overlay (HDO) zoning classifications will be maintained as brick streets…. Brick street repair work (for utility cuts etc.) in the HD and HDO should be done with salvaged brick wherever possible.” (Wilmington Administrative Policy 87-3). This policy has been interpreted to apply also to brick streets in the Historic District Residential (HD-R), a zoning district created after 1987.
The 1987 Policy does NOT protect brick streets outside these local historic districts. It expressly states that streets outside these districts will be repaired and resurfaced with non-brick materials. The 1987 Policy does not provide for restoration of additional brick streets. [When the terms “restore” or “recover” are used herein, they refer to restoration of brick streets by removal of asphalt or other overlaying material.] Finally, the 1987 Policy does not provide any funding for brick streets. Presumably because of lack of funding, many brick streets are in poor condition.
City staff has proposed a brick street policy that primarily addresses utility cut repairs (hereinafter the “Repair Policy”). We commend the staff for their work. It is a good starting point. However, it is a repair policy, NOT a preservation policy, and it is NOT a substitute for the City’s existing 1987 Brick Street Policy. The Repair Policy does not require the preservation of brick streets, not even those in the local historic districts; it has provisions that limit brick street preservation; and it does not address funding. A comprehensive brick street preservation policy is needed. Many cities across the country already have adopted such preservation policies because they recognize that once a brick street is lost, it is lost forever. (See Resources, attached.)
- STRONG PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR THE PRESERVATION OF WILMINGTON’S BRICK STREETS
In the first quarter of 2016, the City sought public input on brick streets, including through two public meetings and an online survey. The survey responses overwhelmingly favor preserving all existing brick streets (87%); restoring all asphalt covered brick streets by removing the asphalt (67%); and repairing brick streets with brick rather than asphalt patches (93%). The survey shows that Wilmington residents want preservation of all of the City’s brick streets, whether or not in historic districts, even if the upfront costs are greater (71.38%) and the ride is less smooth (84%) than those of asphalt streets.
III. PROVISIONS ESSENTIAL TO A COMPREHENSIVE BRICK STREET PRESERVATION POLICY
HWF, ROW, and our community partners urge City Council to direct staff to develop a Brick Street Preservation Policy that strengthens the City’s current 1987 Brick Street Policy and extends its protection to all of the City’s brick streets. Specifically, we urge Council to adopt a Brick Street Preservation Policy that includes the following:
- The Broadest Possible Preservation Requirement.
- With few if any exceptions, the Policy should require the preservation of all of the City’s streets and alleys paved with historic pavers (brick, cobblestone or asphalt brick), whether exposed or covered with asphalt, and their related granite and slate curbs (collectively referred to herein as “brick streets”).
- The Policy should require that City Council expressly approve any exceptions to this preservation requirement. Brick streets (whether exposed brick or asphalt covered brick) should not be paved over, repaired or replaced with asphalt or other non-brick materials, unless: a) there is a significant demonstrated safety or other public purpose for the change from brick to non-brick; and b) City Council votes to approve the change, after appropriate public notice and hearing. If the brick street is within a historic district subject to the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC), then the City should also seek the HPC’s recommendation as to whether the street may be paved over, repaired or replaced with asphalt or other non-brick material.
- Ongoing Funding.
- The Policy should provide ongoing funding for brick streets. It should include a “20 Year Brick Street Plan” to: a) repair and maintain existing brick streets; and, b) restore to brick the streets that are covered in whole or in part with asphalt. Repair, maintenance and restoration should include, where necessary, removing the brick, re-doing the foundation, and re-laying the brick in accordance with best practices. To develop the Plan, the City should survey all brick and asphalt covered brick streets to determine their condition and what repairs, restoration and maintenance are needed. The 20 Year Plan should include projections of the costs to implement the Plan and estimates of the amounts that must be budgeted each year to achieve the Plan.
- Pursuant to the 20 Year Plan, the City should develop guidelines for prioritizing the order in which brick streets are to be repaired, restored and maintained. Using those guidelines, the City also should develop a renewing 5 Year Schedule for brick street for repair, restoration and maintenance. In the 5 Year Schedule, priority should be given to: a) brick streets and asphalt covered brick streets that have a poor ride, for instance because of extensive asphalt patching or erosion of the asphalt cover; b) brick streets that are in relatively good condition and need only minor repairs; and c) brick streets and asphalt covered brick streets in areas of historic and/or economic importance or need (tourist areas, historic districts, areas in need of economic stimulus). Each 5 Year Schedule should be subject to public comment before it is adopted, incorporated in any City Transportation Plan, and available on the City website.
- The Policy should require that the City set aside in every annual budget an amount specifically designated for brick street repair, restoration and maintenance. The budgeted amounts should be based on the projected estimated costs necessary to achieve the 20 Year Brick Street Plan and each successive 5 Year Schedule.
- The City should investigate Federal, State, and private grants (including historic preservation, economic development and environmental protection grants) for the preservation, repair, restoration, and maintenance of the City’s brick streets. Grants should be used to expedite the 20 Year Plan and 5 Year Schedules, and may reduce the amount of City funding for brick streets during the periods covered by the grants. However, grants should not eliminate the requirement that the City include funding for brick streets in its annual budgets.
III. Provision for an Adequate Supply of Appropriate Historic Pavers and Curbs.
- The Policy should include salvage requirements and procedures for historic paving and curb materials so that those removed from existing streets are preserved for future use. The Policy should require all persons and entities doing work that disrupts a brick street (including property owners, contractors and utility companies) to comply with these requirements and procedures. (Section 4.3 of the staff’s proposed Repair Policy, “Handling and Storage of Bricks Removed from City Streets,” is a good approach to salvage.)
- The Policy also should provide for the purchase of an adequate supply of appropriate new substitute brick pavers for future repair and restoration of brick streets in the event sufficient salvaged bricks are not available.
- Requirements for Brick Street Repair in the Event of a Disturbance.
- The Policy should include requirements for appropriate timely repair of brick and asphalt covered brick streets that are disturbed by utility cuts or other work. The policy should require that brick streets be repaired with identical salvaged pavers (if available) or appropriate substitute pavers in the same in material and dimensions as the original; that the pavers be laid in a pattern consistent with the original pavement; and that all repairs be done in an appropriate manner, consistent with best practices.
- The Policy should include requirements that hold accountable any person or entity doing work that disturbs a brick or asphalt covered brick street. They should be required to obtain a permit and provide a one year warranty of the repair work. If the street is in a historic district subject to the HPC, they also should be required to obtain a COA from the HPC. If the project may cause a significant disturbance to the street, they might also be required to post a bond. All repair work should be subject to inspection and acceptance by the City.
- Restoration of Asphalt Covered Streets to Brick, Especially in the Event of a Major Disturbance.
- The Policy should provide, with few exceptions, that asphalt covered brick streets will be uncovered and restored to brick over time, and that they will be repaired with brick when there is a utility cut or other disturbance.
- When an asphalt covered brick street is subject to a significant utility cut or other disturbance, this is an opportune time to restore the street to brick. The proposed Repair Policy recognizes this fact. It provides that portions of some asphalt covered brick streets (those with traffic volumes of fewer than 4000 vehicles/day and speed limits of 25 mph or less) MUST BE RESTORED TO BRICK when they are repaired after a disturbance: (a) if a project disturbs more than 35% of the street surface (per block), then the entire block shall be restored to brick; and (b) if the project disturbs less than 35% of a “Main” or “Special Character” street, then brick shall be used to restore the length of the disturbance, from curb to curb. (Proposed Repair Policy, p.15). This Repair Policy is a good starting point, but it raises concerns. Its traffic volume limitations will result in the loss of brick streets as Wilmington grows and downtown becomes more congested; its 25 mph speed limit and street type classifications are subject to change making future brick street preservation uncertain; and the 35% provisions could incent contractors and utilities to make multiple smaller cuts to avoid the policy and could result in block by block checkerboards of brick and asphalt. Significantly, we find no engineering justification for these limitations. In fact, studies show that while heavy truck weight and high speeds may undermine brick streets, the higher traffic volumes and speeds typical of urban areas (35 mph or less) do not: “Busy downtown areas where traffic is heavier but moves slowly have also successfully preserved brick streets.” (R. Baier, Illinois Brick Street Study, p. 12; see also Columbia OH Brick Street FAQs noting avg. speeds of 29 mph on brick streets.) We urge that the Comprehensive Brick Street Preservation Policy include the broadest possible brick street restoration provisions, instead of the traffic volume, 25 mph speed limit and other limitations contained in the proposed Repair Policy.
The Policy should provide oversight for any repair, re-pavement or other significant change to brick or asphalt covered brick streets. There should be a review and approval process for resolving questions like these: May the brick street be temporarily resurfaced with asphalt? What substitute pavers are appropriate for the repair or restoration? Should the brick street be converted to asphalt for safety reasons? If the street is in a district subject to the HPC, then the HPC should review and determine the appropriateness of any significant change to a brick street through the COA process. There also should be a review and approval process for streets that are not in a historic district. One option is to give the HPC oversight over all brick street repairs, regardless of where the street is located.
Thank you for considering our proposal.
Respectfully submitted, this _____ day of August, 2016.
Residents of Old Wilmington, Inc. Historic Wilmington Foundation
Sylvia Kochler, President George W. Edwards, Executive Director
This proposal was prepared on behalf of Historic Wilmington Foundation and Residents of Old Wilmington by the HWF/ROW Brick Streets Working Group: Charles Boney, Jr.; Terry Bragg; George Edwards; Sylvia Kochler; Gene Merritt; Dale Nixon; and Maggie O’Connor.
- Brick Streets Technical Studies and Summaries
Baier, Royce, “Preservation and Maintenance of Brick Streets,” Illinois Preservation Series, No. 12, pp 5 – 16
Bedard, Janel Claire, “Follow the Red Brick Road: A Plan to Restore Brick Streets in Buffalo NY,” Masters of Urban Planning Program, University of Buffalo, 2008
Blair Historic Preservation Authority, “Brick Streets FAQs,” 2008
City of Columbia, OH, “Brick Street Policy Resolution FAQs,” prepared for Columbia City Council, 2011
Kelso, Harry B. and J. Dunn, “Preservation and Maintenance of Brick Streets,” SW Prologue Series, Oklahoma Historic Society
Newber, J. F., “A Study of Brick-Paved Streets in Wilmington NC,” “A Study of Stone-Paved and Other Stone Pavements in Wilmington, NC,” and “A Study of Street Curbing in Wilmington, NC”, 2006-07
Residents of Old Wilmington (R. Erb, D. Nixon, and B. Wallen), “Survey of Wilmington’s Brick Streets,” 2009
Seapker, Janet, “HPC Historic Pavement Study,” 2010
- Representative Municipal Brick Streets Plans and Policies
Bloomington IL, “Brick Streets Strategic Plan,” Sept. 17, 2009
Rock Island IL Municipality and Rock Island Preservation Commission, “Brick Streets Plan,” adopted 1988, last amended 2012.
St. Petersburg FL, “Citywide Brick Street Preservation Policy,” (Resolution No. 92-780) and “Traditional Streetscape Preservation Policy, “(Resolutions Nos. 2004-170, 2008-419, and 2010-282)
Topeka KS, “Brick Street, Alley and Sidewalk Policy”
Winter Park FL, “Brick Streets Policy,” June 2001