Friends Of Oberlin Village Seek Raleigh Historic Designation for Freedmen's Settlement

May 23, 2017

The Oberlin Cemetery.
Credit Courtesy of Cheryl Williams

Residents of a historically African-American neighborhood in Raleigh are petitioning the city to protect the area with a historic overlay. Oberlin Village was settled by black freedmen after the Civil War, and its early residents made many contributions to the city. The area has now become a predominantly white neighborhood under development.

Cheryl Williams is a founding member of the non-profit Friends of Oberlin Village. Her family's ties there go back to the 1880s. Williams says a historic overlay designation would encourage developers to consider the neighborhood's character.

"It's not that we're trying to stop the development, but that the development that comes considers, and ideally includes, homage to the cultural history through the architecture, through the design, " Williams said.

Williams says the Friends of Oberlin Village decided to seek a historic overlay after a recent developer announced design plans for a complex and then did not follow them.

"The lot next to my family house... was going to be developed with a lot of condos and starting at a very high price," Williams said.

When the developer made the presentation to the city to get the approval, they had talked about and showed pictures of a design that was more compatible with the neighborhood.

"But then the rendering on the lot was nothing, nothing, like what they had presented. I mean, it was a box," Williams said.

For a Raleigh historic overlay, the city sets design guidelines for renovation and new construction of homes and buildings within the district.

More than half of the homeowners at Oberlin Village signed a petition seeking a historic overlay.

"For us, for Oberlin Village, the historic overlay is a way protect that style of architecture that's there, the feeling of neighborhood that's there, the safety of the streets, so that people can walk and be in and around the community," Williams said.

The Friends of Oberlin Village brought the petition before the Raleigh Historic Redevelopment Commission this week, which approved their application to go before the Raleigh City Council in June.