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how to diss the design review czars

Seabishop

Cyburbian
Messages
3,838
Points
25
A guy in a suburban RI town cut down all the trees on his vacant property and painted all the stumps flourescent colors in protest of some local restriction.
 

H

Cyburbian
Messages
2,850
Points
24
SGB said:
[Georgia Man Paints House in Polka Dots[/URL]

Yet another tale of a property owner revolting over municipal design restrictions.
I think that is great! While I believe in size and use restrictions (ie zoning and code), I don’t like design restrictions, they make areas sterile. GOOOOO individualism!!

I have some rental property and painted one house yellow to brighten up the place and make it feel “beachy”. Most people liked it, but the neighbor gave me a mouth full. I politely told her to ___________.
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,464
Points
29
Individualism is great. Cutting down all the trees in an otherwise heavily forested neighborhood is juvenile and antisocial.
 

H

Cyburbian
Messages
2,850
Points
24
BKM said:
Individualism is great. Cutting down all the trees in an otherwise heavily forested neighborhood is juvenile and antisocial.
Agreed. I was in no way defending that action or behavior.
 

H

Cyburbian
Messages
2,850
Points
24
Follow up. Originally I was responding to the man in GA, not in RI. The GA man did not seem to do any lasting damage. Paint can be changed fast, but he still gets his point across.
 

plannerkat

Cyburbian
Messages
204
Points
9
Re: Re: how to diss the design review czars

Huston said:
I think that is great! While I believe in size and use restrictions (ie zoning and code), I don’t like design restrictions, they make areas sterile. GOOOOO individualism!!
However, this was in a historic district. While some historic districts do go over the top, they are approved by residents of the community and are generally a good way to maintain community character. In my neighborhood's case, the historic district was enacted as a way to prevent further bulldozing of 100 year old homes by a land hungry hospital that essentially wanted to turn the whole neighborhood into a riverfront parking lot. We do not regulate paint colors, but exterior alterations that are visible from the street are subject to review. My stand is that if you buy property in a designated historic district, then you should expect some level of design controls. And as far as the idiots we see regularly who claim that they didn't know they were in a historic district, the signs stating "Welcome to the Riverside-Avondale Historic District" should be a clue.
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,464
Points
29
Huston: I didn't assume that you were necessarily supporting the lumberjack, just pointing out that unless you are living like the Unabomber, there are certain civilized rules of behavior. I know that you are aware of that.

I actually have mixed emotions about stringent "historic districts." On the one hand, the hospital gobbling up the neighborhood, or greedy landlords (during the 1970s) cramming shoe box/dingbat apartment buildings into a nice old single family neighborhood (see Fort Loudon in Knoxville, TN), on the other hand, restrictive committees full of old busybodies imposing nitpicky regulations worthy of an overplanned gated suburb.

I would rather see natural evolution than freezing a neighborhood in amber

The problem is that our culture-particularly the building culture, is so bad that new buildings are almost universally worse than pre-World War II buildings. With very few, very expensive exceptions. Plus, institutions (like the hospital) are so huge, population pressures are overwhelming, and business is based on national franchise models impsoed from afar.

I certainly don't have a solution, and I work in a town that had a population of less than 5000 in 1940 (most living on the Air Force Base), so I don't have to deal with the issue too much (there are a few ratty bungalows, one mansion, a couple of nice County government buildings-that's about it.)
 

H

Cyburbian
Messages
2,850
Points
24
plannerkat & BKM:

First, let me explain that I was playing a little on Friday and probably spoke before I thought, so I hope you guys will take what I said with a grain of salt (please see my new quote disclaimer below).

Okay, now for response to you all (and for the most part I agree with both of you).

plannerkat:

Historic district is a lose term here. The house was built in 1956 and has little architectural significance. I have seen video of the house on the news and photos, and it is your standard “ranch”. I will say what I have said before, “just because something is old, does not make it ‘historic’”, if so then we would never be able to infill anything except on vacant land (which we don’t always have). Also, his round stoop is a very minor adjustment and would in fact be an aesthetic improvement to what is there. I know Avondale and they are definitely “over the top”. But like you said, I guess it is his fault for buying a home there.

BKM:

The hospitals gobbling up the Fort Sanders district could be restricted under zoning, and there does not need to be a “historic district” to stop that. I do agree that the character of Fort Sanders got battered in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and today still, but… by cramming multiple apartments in the area allows an affordable place for students to live and walk to school because the supply meets the demand. But again this can be code regulated by size and density and not by ‘historic’ regulations. When the house is a true place of ‘historic’ significance, preserve it, but if not, wants change and areas need to be able to adapt. As you said “I would rather see natural evolution than freezing a neighborhood in amber”. If the Fort had been preserved as single family then the students would all have to live elsewhere and drive, causing massive problems.
And truthfully the “historic” relevance to the area dates to the ‘war between the states’ when the area was a cleared hill with no trees or houses. So if people there really want to ‘preserve’ the past the city needs to get out It’s bulldozers!!
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,464
Points
29
Huston: I don't think we disagree at all. I agree with you that there are probably not many places that should be "frozen in amber." Fort Sanders' main problem was total lack of enforcement of building, electrical (you should have seen the hanging electric wires in the rooming house I lived in!), and sanitation codes. I agree that pure historic preservation would not have worked, and that Knoxville needs a student ghetto (just a little cleaner one) and a little better design regulations-not preservation per se.

Neighborhoods need to evolve. If only the modern vernacular was a little better-but we get the buildings we deserve as a culture, and if most people want fancy media rooms, drive-through lanes, and plenty of parking, then they (or we as a culture) deserve to live in "The Town Next Door." And, that's where critics like Kunstler are wrong. For the vast majority of people, suburbia is not a "wasteland" or "ugly." Its what they are used to. Grow up in a Gothic walled cathedral town, you are surrounded your entire life by beautiful art, architecture, and tradition (as well as living in cramped, damp apartments with little private outdoor space.) Grow up off Coliseum BLvd in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and there is nothing wrong with a 45 foot tall sign for Wally's Waterbed World surmounting a cement block, windowless box located on a powerline-festooned twelve-lane truck route that has evolved to be the city's true "downtown."

There, that's my wacky rant of the day :)
 

Lee Nellis

Cyburbian
Messages
1,371
Points
29
I think there is a considerable difference between the changes that make a neighborhood evolve over many years and someone consciously flaunting local regulations that they have every reason to know about. What makes change over the years interesting to me, and what gives a place character I think, is how form follows function. I don't see how the polka-dots fit into that at all.

The changes in neighborhoods as functions change because an institution expands are more interesting and more difficult to respond to. But it seems to me that evolution works more or less incrementally, and the wholesale conversion of a neighborhood to apartments or parking is not about evolution, or anything organic, but an example of imperialism that can be combatted only by the local folks organizing to protect what they value. The flaw in some historic or design review districts is that they have no better perception of how change can progress with respect for what has come before than the large institutions or developers they are resisting.
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,464
Points
29
You are not entirely wrong, Lee, but it is almost impossible to write regulations that do that. And, what if wholesale change in a neighborhood is what makes sense?

Example: Solano County is building its new County Governmnent Center in downtown Fairfield. We (the City) wanted to preserve this role for downtown (as well as the jobs, sup[port for our local downtown businesses, etc). Across the street, however, is a remnant of Fairfield's population 1,300 country town era-and its not all that pretty (cement block one story offices, not very nice post-war mini-ranchers and bungalows, scattered vadcant lots.) This is a neighborhood where wholesale redevelopment would be a GOOD thing-Fairfield needs a good intown redevelopment project with three-story mixed use and all the trimmings that reflects the current status of the city-county seat, 100,000 plus population. It also proves that old is not always better.
 

ambmason

Cyburbian
Messages
46
Points
2
design review supporter

I think that some misperceptions of design review need to be cleared up. For planning professionals to react so negatively to an excellent tool is very shortsighted.
First, design review is based on design guidelines not the mood of the board that day. Blame a denied application on the quality of the project not the board.
Second, review board members must often meet strict membership criteria. Many are architects, contractors, and property owners in these districts. They not only care about the districts, they have backgrounds in design and can recognize quality changes as such. Because they know better than to think all development is good development does not make them czars.
Third, design review does not address land use. These boards do not say which houses can be turned into apartments. They say when a window can or can't be turned into another entrance. They do not say when a house on a main street can be used as an office. They way when the front porch can't be enclosed losing the residential character of the property.
Fourth, a historic district does not imply that every structure within is historic but a majority are and collectively the neighborhood imparts a certain character that a community chooses to maintain. This means that changes to structures, both old and new, must be of a quality to maintain that character- not that change can't happen.
Fifth, historic district regulation does not require changes. Owning a house in a historic district does not mean that any changes are required. You can maintain the house as pretty or ugly as you found it provided it is meeting codes. But if you do make changes- they must be good ones that meet the design guidelines.
Sixth, home owners can be expected to know there are regulations and follow them. We expect business owners to know to get a business license, sign permit, etc. We don't apologize to them saying how sorry we are they are a business owner because now they must go through the hassle of a business license. So we shouldn't apologize that a property owner is in a historic district and must go through a process to alter their home. Presumably they chose the neighborhood because they liked its feel too. We are making sure that it stays that way.
Historic district regulations are a great way to maintain character in a neighborhood. They are not the end all be all of planning, but one of many tools that can and should be used. For planning professionals to write off this tool based on false perceptions is bad planning.
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,464
Points
29
Ambmason: You make good points. However, guidelines can only do so much, and they are often somewhat arbitrary. And, there is still the problem of arbitrariness in application of the guidelines-even if the committee members are "architects" and "contractors" (Remember, "architects" and "contractors" designed the concrete block minimart down the street-professional status doesn't confer omniscience :) )

My problem is setting up all these rules and committees doesn't "solve" underlying cultural problems, and the innate bureaucratic process of such rules and regulations encourage the local busybodies-even if they are well-meaning, they are still busybodies.

Heck, the rigid CC&Rs in over-planned communities like Irvine, California do probably "protect" property values and prevent decay, but I would NEVER want to live in such a nitpicky neighborhood. Not every problem-or inevitable change over time-can or should be solved through "guidelines," "committees" or "rules." A little bit of messiness is GOOD for the community. A theme park frozen in 1885 by excessive rules may not always be a good thing.
 

H

Cyburbian
Messages
2,850
Points
24
Ambmason, I understand what you are saying, and I hear you, but…

I agree that not all districts are bad; Savannah Ga would not be the same with out it and I am glad Savannah has been preserved; it is beautiful. But there is a time and a place for historic districts and many are over the top (i.e. the round stoop in Avondale with ranch house circa 1956). This is my point.

I don’t want to bash all historic districts, but personally I would not like to be in one. I don’t care what your ‘design’ background is, if it is ‘my’ house, I want it to reflect ‘my’ style. Not the ‘board’s’ style.

Example: My father’s house was built in 1906 with hard wood floors, walls and ceilings from the local post office torn down in 1905. The stone exterior was gathered by hand from the local creek (now it is urban Atlanta). When the historic guy came around and told him that the property should be historic and the back deck construction should halt, he was promptly and politely escorted off the property.

Historic districts are fine, but not if they ‘hurt’ the people living in them. Avondale should let the guy “improve” the stoop by making it round if he wants to and my father will continue enjoying cocktails on his back deck.

Cheers.
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,464
Points
29
Amen, Huston.

Just like the guy in "Pretentious Snob Estates" who was told that his house was painted the improper shade of yellow. The neighborhood demanded "beige." Yuck. Don't they soemthing better to do than drive around with a ruler and measure the height of their neighbors' grass?
 

nerudite

Cyburbian
Messages
6,544
Points
30
One of my design horror stories... or enforcement ineptitudes is in this thread. Look for the yellow eyesore post.
 

Repo Man

Cyburbian
Messages
2,550
Points
25
I think historic districts serve a great purpose, but it seems like the people who serve on design review boards sometimes get drunk with power. I recall reading about a San Fransisco historic neighborhood committee that had cost a couple hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills because of the board's decisions. I am glad this guy did this because maybe next time the commission will be a little more supportive of the landowners who have invested in the neighborhood.
 

ambmason

Cyburbian
Messages
46
Points
2
I still think that the bashing of historic districts going on here is out of order. All design guidelines are not the same because all districts are not the same. They do not have to regulate paint color, they do not even have to regulate non-public facades. It is all about how the district regulations are set up.
Regulations can cover as much or as little as the community supports. They can allow for checks and balances if the fear is that the board members will overstep their bounds and regulate beyond the scope of the guidelines.
To those home owners that don't want to follow the rules- don't buy a house there. There are millions of older and historic homes not covered by historic district protections. Buy one of those and muck if up all you want. But you still won't have avoided regulation of your property.
Your local government will still tell you if your back deck is planned too close to the property line, if your septic tank can't accommodate that new addition, etc., etc.
So what I am saying is that if you have GOOD design guidelines, GOOD regulations for review board membership, GOOD boundaries and character definition for the district, then you will have a successful historic district. No it isn't the place to live for everyone but for many it works. And it isn't just for the fancy homes of Savannah selling for millions that deserve this protection. Rich people have always had fancy houses. What makes most historic properties so fascinating is the level of workmanship and attention to detail in the most modest of homes. Insisting on quality is not a negative. Feeling secure that your next door neighbor can't build a fence of old tires is not a negative. Many people want and support these regulations and for the rest there is an ever abundant selection of new tract homes with bland construction and detailing just waiting for personalization in the subdivision ten miles down the road.
 

H

Cyburbian
Messages
2,850
Points
24
ambmason said:
Insisting on quality is not a negative.
I couldn’t agree more. Are we talking ‘design’ guidelines or building code? Because they are completely different things to me. I like quality too. I think you are finding arguments that have not been posted. I (and others) have previously stated that not all historic districts are bad and sometimes serve a good purpose.

But, what does a round stoop versus a square stoop have to do with quality? To me that is ONLY design, of someone else’s taste.

But, you say,

Many people want and support these regulations and for the rest there is an ever abundant selection of new tract homes with bland construction and detailing just waiting for personalization in the subdivision ten miles down the road.
Are the individuals and personalization banned from your neighborhood and excluded to 10 mile down the road? Sounds discriminatory to me. What if I don’t want to wear the ribbon, but still want to live ‘in-town’? Or what if I cant afford to restore the iron rod fence after the storm? What do I do then? Can I replace it with a chain link? Or wood fence? If no, what should I do when my dog runs away? What will I tell the children? That daddy does not make enough money to replace the iron rod fence, so we must move to the selection of new tract homes or scrappy will run away?! I guess it is tough titty for the kitty?

(of course I am being sarcastic on this reply, but come on, you want to banish me from your community and send me 10 miles down the road, do you want to pick out my clothes for me too? Does a brown shirt go with red pants?)


I know you value your historic community, and I respect that. I am just pointing out that “good” design (ie color or round vs. square) is arbitrary opinion. And you know they say about opinions…
 
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