What Local Historic District DOES NOT do: · Does not regulate paint colors · Does not require repairs or renovations to be made · Does not increase taxes beyond normal increases for the City or County · Does not prevent additions · Does not prevent non-contributing homes from being demolished · Does not require use of historic materials or historic building methods · Does not require that you open you home to the public · Does not restrict routine maintenance of properties
What Local Historic District DOES do: · Recognizes that Oakhurst has a distinctive historic character important to the overall character of the City of Decatur · Encourages creative and compatible development with historic areas · Requires that a Certificate of Appropriateness be obtained for exterior changes to contributing properties, demolition of buildings, and new construction. · Applies only to major renovations to the exterior of your home. Interior renovations are not restricted.

Friday, August 3, 2007

What tools are currently available

What tools are currently available in the City of Decatur that preserve unique historic character and history, while still allowing growth and development of an area, other than Local Historic District designation?

The only method of preserving the unique historic character and history of a neighborhood in the City of Decatur is through Local Historic District. The historic preservation ordinance and historic preservation commission were established by local ordinance to ensure that renovations and new construction in Decatur's Local Historic Districts are consistent with the character of the neighborhood. The development of the design guidelines to be used in a community are created with input from the community so that it protects their unique valued resources while still allowing some flexibility especially in new construction.

Many residents mistakenly believe that zoning can be used to protect historic resources. However, zoning is the way the governments control the physical development of land and the kinds of uses to which each individual property may be put. Zoning laws typically specify the areas in which residential, industrial, recreational or commercial activities may take place. For example, an R-1 residential zone might allow only single-family detached homes as opposed to duplexes or apartment complexes. On the other hand, a C-1 commercial zone might be zoned to permit only certain commercial or industrial uses in one jurisdiction, but permit a mix of housing and businesses in another jurisdiction. Zoning can regulate height and floor area ratio, but the character of a place or home can not be regulated by zoning.


Scott Doyon said...

"Zoning can regulate height and floor area ratio, but the character of a place or home can not be regulated by zoning."

This is accurate as it relates to the zoning ordinance governing Decatur's (and many other community's) land use but is deceptive when offered as a blanket statement. A clarification might be helpful.

A growing number of communities nationwide are moving from the use-based zoning you refer to (known as "Euclidian" zoning, after the court case that legalized it) to what's known as "form-based" coding. Form-based codes, while still regulating use to some degree, concern themselves primarily with physical details such as building types, siting, massing, and orientation to the street.

They also regulate street widths and public frontages, which are also key components of what's commonly referred to as "character."

In some commuinities, adoption of a new, form-based code (especially as an overlay for existing, historic areas or areas expected to experience wholesale redevelopment) is legally tied to a Pattern Book or other architectural control mechanism, bringing not just form but materials and other detailing under its purview.

To be clear, such architectural control is another layer of oversight, just like a historic district, so this is not an implication that similar goals can be reached in the absence of some form of regulation. It's simply to clarify that, yes, character can be regulated through zoning. Just not the suburban-friendly conventional zoning that's been the predominant method in this country for more than a half century.


Robert said...

This sounds interesting, but I wonder how much time it would take to implements such zoning. A case in point is the amount of time it has taken to re-visit the new in-fill guidelines which were started in November of 2005 and still have not been implemented. We lost over 60 homes to demolition in Oakhurst from 2000-2005. How many more are we willing to lose?

Secondly, historic resources are not protected through such zoning.

Third, it has been found in other cities, such as Austin, TX, that such zoning can be detrimental to a community. Zoning so strict that it truly protects the historic character is often more restrictive on the citizens than a historic overlay.

Scott Doyon said...

A couple things, as my comments were meant as clarification, not advocacy.

Your timing question is important because, as experience has shown, adoption of a form-based code is only possible in the presence of solid political will. Given the infill-zoning process here, I would venture that, while there's clearly some level of will on the part of city leadership to show "action," there is nowhere near the necessary will to establish clear end goals and then enact the sometimes difficult measures necessary to get there. So, yes, a form-based code for Decatur is not a viable solution at this time.

It's also correct that form-based codes do not protect historic resources per se. They regulate form and character but do not distinguish (unless written as such) on the basis of age or historical value. Should a community have such assets worthy of protection, historic preservation tools typically function as "plug-ins" in that regard.

This type of pairing can be more effective than historic districts working in the context of conventional, use-based zoning, because use-based ordinances typically do little or nothing to protect the details external to a particular building that are also important components of character: siting, street widths, etc. Form-based coding is simply a better tool than conventional zoning if a community's goal is generating traditionally-compatible new development and preventing the kinds of externalities that devalue existing historic resources.

I disagree that an increased level of restriction inherent in any ordinace is automatically synonymous with detriment to the community. That would imply that a place like Buford Highway, which is 100% a product of loosely restricted, use-based zoning, is what we should aspire to in our built environment because it is benign as it pertains to the character-specific details that actually matter.

Every community is different in its perspective on individual vs. collective rights and responsibilities and it's up to each of them to codify their values in the most appropriate way. For those who feel that conventional, use-based zoning works against the pursuit of more endearing, economically sustainable places, form-based codes offer a much needed alternative tool.

Now, back to the regularly-scheduled discussion of the historic district issue at hand!