Historic houses come tumbling down
Teardowns are threatening the character of some older communities
(Page 3 of 3)
It's more logical, he figures, to explore whether an old home is structurally stable or can be rehabilitated before automatically opting to tear it down and build a faux chateau. Once a McMansion has replaced a neighborhood home, "it's like a domino effect," he observes.Skip to next paragraph
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In defending teardowns, builders, developers, and new-home buyers often say that in the US, people have always had the right to do whatever they want with their property, provided they don't break any laws.
But those in the preservation movement insist that the rights of neighbors, who've consciously invested in historic districts, can't be ignored either.
"We have a responsibility to our neighbors and community obligations in this country," Moe observes. "That's not to say every house needs to be preserved. They don't. Sometimes a teardown can be replaced with a house that enhances a community's character. I've seen examples of that. What we're really calling for is respect for community character."
"Traditionally there are three types of historic designations: local, state, and federal," says Adrian Fine, a spokesman for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The state and national designations are largely honorific, but a local historic designation usually has real teeth when it comes to things like rehabilitation and demolition. The latter may prevent a homeowner from remodeling with vinyl siding, changing the exterior paint color, or leveling a house and starting over.
Because this involves ordinances, it is a political process that may be difficult to achieve.
Governmental agencies such as historic preservation commissions usually grant "historic" status at the state and local level. Nationally, the National Park Service determines which districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects make it into the National Register of Historic Places (www.cr.nps.gov).
Nominations of properties are accepted from governments, organizations, or individuals, with evaluations based on their significance to American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture.
"A lot of times groups or communities will first try to get [neighborhoods] on state or national listings, with the idea of building awareness of the area," Mr. Fine says.
Properties deemed historic are often identified as such with markers. "These start telling the story about the neighborhood and its houses, but they don't provide any tangible protection," he explains.
The real protections kick in with the creation of local "historic districts."
If these are viewed as too restrictive and encounter stiff community opposition, there is an alternative: conservation districts.
With a conservation district, the design commission cannot regulate development, but it still plays an advisory role in reviewing projects.
Developers, says Karen Hubner of Atlanta's Urban Design Commission, have to go through the process and listen to the commission's suggestions. Although these can be ignored, the process is "much more effective than you might think," she observes. "An application in a conservation district is a public hearing, so people get to come from the neighborhood and either support or inquire about the [proposed] project.
"Sometimes just the idea that you have to go and make a presentation in public can have an effect. You're not anonymous. It's surprising the number of times this assists in getting a product the neighborhood feels comfortable with."
National Trust for Historic Preservation
A nonprofit organization that is a leader in the preservation movement. Publishes Preservation magazine.
The Old House Web www.oldhouseweb.com
Ideas, advice, and community for old-house enthusiasts.
Old House Journal online www.oldhousejournal.com
How-to magazine about restoring old homes.
An interactive old-house network.
This Old House www.thisoldhouse.com
Television show and magazine.
American Bungalow www.ambungalow.com
Magazine with a wealth of resources about preserving and restoring the modest American 20th-century home.
Old House Chronicle www.oldhousechronicle.com
Bimonthly Internet-based magazine about old houses and the people who live in them.