Board rejects Colonial Inn demolition request
The Hillsborough Historic District Commission rejected Wednesday evening Francis Henry’s request to demolish the 176-year-old Colonial Inn.
Following a nearly three-hour meeting with 17 testimonies supporting preservation of the inn, the commission unanimously rejected the petition to turn the inn into a grassed lot.
Mark Bell, chairman of the commission, removed himself from the hearing because he has conducted business with Henry in the last 12 months.
He said he and his wife offered to buy the inn on several occasions, but that Henry rejected the offers.
At the meeting, Henry said he did not intend to demolish the inn, but his application was about the principle of his rights as the property owner.
Before the event, people gathered on the lawn outside the Hillsborough Town Barn to show support for preserving the inn.
Chip Millard, a Hillsborough native and organizer of the event, said he hoped all the people gathered would become part of the preservation process.
“We’ve eaten there … we’ve gone to weddings there,” Millard said.
But the future remains uncertain for the inn.
During deliberation, HDC members said Henry has not sought other viable options to avoid demolition.
Throughout the testimonies, speakers highlighted options for the inn including selling it or turning it over to a preservation fund, rezoning it into a commercial establishment or restoring it into a single family dwelling.
Henry said the offers he’s received for the inn were “bad and fake” and that he was surprised with all the interest at the meeting in preserving the inn.
“There are a lot of people here who could’ve said something for all these years,” Henry said. “And nobody stepped up to the plate.”
He said the testimonies “would have been very nice to hear a long time ago.”
Commissioner Mark Irwin asked Henry why he bought the inn initially.
“Let’s pass on that for now,” Henry said.
Of the 17 speakers, many were from preservation alliances and societies at both the state and local level, including the Hillsborough Preservation Fund, The Historic Preservation Commission of Orange County and Preservation North Carolina.
“Preservation North Carolina can assist the owner with a range of options, including financial incentives,” said Cathleen Turner, regional director of Preservation N.C.
She said the Colonial Inn is an excellent project for rehabilitation.
“Demolition is a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” Turner said.
Sarah DeGennaro, executive director of Alliance for Historic Hillsborough, said the inn is crucial to the town’s tourism industry and economic development.
“For 10 years, we have said that this building is worth fighting for,” DeGennaro said. “The Colonial Inn is an icon for Hillsborough, an integral part of the downtown streetscape, a potential economic engine and a symbol of our community’s commitment to historic preservation.”