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Thread: Historic Preservation Ordinances

  1. #1

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    Historic Preservation Ordinances

    What does the group think of strict Historic Preservation Ordinances. By that, I mean ordinances that require homeowners (or commercial property owners) to receive "approval" from some kind of Historic Preservation Board before they can modify the exterior of their homes?

    I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about this. I generally prefer older buildings-particularly commercial buildings. But, I have a little bit of a philosophical problem with strict rules about protecting private residences from change. I remember reading about a subdivision in the San Fernando Valley going for a designation, and the leader of the effort stating something like "By stopping any further major additions, we will preserve the original character of the neighborhood" This is not some colonial historic district, mind you, but a 1950s tract home subdivision of Eichlers. I LIKE Eichlers, but giving some appointed committee of busybodies the right to dictate to me what color I can paint my house bugs me a little.

    So, I can see it for downtown commercial districts, but have a problem with single family neighborhoods-"My home is my castle."

    What do you think?

  2. #2
          Downtown's avatar
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    BKM, I'm with you on the private residential. I can completely understand when we're talking about ante-bellum homes that have lasted over a hundred years, but for tract homes?

    I just think about my old boss in Anderson who spent a couple hundred grand to restore a completely run down on the verge of condemnation 1850's home and all the crap he took from the historic preservation board about wanting to substitute a type of siding that looked exactly like wood but was much more durable and the board really didn't want to budge on it, but when it was the deal breaker for either preserving this house or seeing it destroyed forever, finally backed down.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I'm going to suggest that it is somewhat community preference on how strict the ordinance will be, or will be enforced. Myself, I am in favor of strict ordiances with a board flexible enough to realize when exceptions are permitted. Historic districts are unique. All it takes is one or two really bad new buildings, alterations, tear-downs, additions, etc. to disrupt the character of the district. This can have great economic and cultural impacts on the other property owners in the district or the whole community.

    As for tract subdivisions, I can't see it - yet.

  4. #4

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    Historic Preservation

    Michael:

    I have mixed feelings. If I lived in a Colonial house, I would be pretty pissed if my neighbor painted his house purple and added an igloo out front.

    Keep in mind, though, that the post-war tracts are now 50 years old, and that mid-century modernism is once again "hip" among the chattering classes.

    And, even though I may dislike inappropriate changes, at the same time, I'm not sure I like the idea of using the police powers of the municipal government to freeze things in amber. One of the interesting things about chaotic American mixed use cities is the differrent layers of history. Sure, I don't like the 1940s bakelite facade tacked onto the turn of the century building.

    Similarly, people's needs change. What about extended families? I guess they don't have to move into a historic neighborhood, but what IF we start designating the Levittowns (as important historically, if not aesthetically, as your average Victorian district), Eichler neighborhoods, etc. Many of these earlier subdivisions are relatively affordable.

    Again, I don't know "the answer." Oh well, back to work.

  5. #5

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    Boards

    And, KMateja brings up the other problem. What kind of people serve on these boards? Well meaning but often very idealistic and inflexible people. It WOULD depend on the community.

    I think at least that a majority of homeowners must vote to incorporate as a district. The case I was reading about required no buy-in by the neighborhood property owners at all. This is what maybe really bothered me.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Right - neighborhood/community standards in most cases. If the majority of a neighborhood wants to be strict, fine.

    I have no objection to additions or alterations. I have seen some done particularly well and I think it is appropriate for a home to grow with its owners. I would be concerned about some bad alterations or additions.

    In reality, most historic districts are about a given "character" or "feel." There is a historic significance, but more often associated with a given era rather than a historic person or event. For these districts, I think there should be a greater degree of flexibility.

  7. #7
    I agree with Michael that the community sets the standard. Historic Districts are governed usually by a group made up of district property owners and augmented by a few professionals in architecture, history or planning. The group makes its own regulations, I've seen them strict and very loose. I've often heard people use scare tactics of the "regulations from hell" when it is up to the district to set its own standards. Even districts on the National Register allow the district to set its standards. All in all it's not unlike a homeowners association. And consider how compassionate they are (she said while dying laughing).

    Our city is considering passage of a historic preservation ordinance which could feasibly designate a property as a local historic place without owner's consent and thus prevent its demolition....Council is going to have a collective stroke when this one comes up.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Review of properties within local districts can be set up to be done well when the ordinance and the guidelines that regulate that review are well thought out. It should not be assumed that the review members are going to be arbitrary or without a background enabling quality review.
    In my case the Design Review Board is seven community members who are appointed by the Planning and zoning Commission to make recommendations on Certificate of Apprpriateness applications. P&Z Commission makes the final decision and can vary from the recommendation. The background of the board is determined in the ordinance and requires architects, property owners, business owners, and others with special skills in preservation, construction, landscape design, real estate, etc. These are volunteers who care about the character of these areas- but also real people who understand having to live and work in these areas. They understand that to give an arbitrary review will ultimately result on the regulations being overthrown in court and are very conscious of their role.
    Design Guidelines can be written by the review board, staff, or a private consultant to be as loose or strict as desired. This does not have to be an all or nothing. As staff person to our review board, I have written new guidelines for our downtown area and got input from the review board members AND the public before having them approved by P&Z at a public hearing.
    Design review can be a good thing for your historic areas. When it is done well and planned for, the success is visible in the property values but even better in the pride people have in their area. They know that the time and effort they spend to restore or maintain their property will not be worthless because of changes their neighbors make. This is not less important to post-war homeowners than to those of antebellum mansions.

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