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.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Economics, Sustainability & Historic Preservation

Quotes from the following article: http://www.nationaltrust.org/advocacy/case/Rypkema_Speech_on_Sustainability_in_Portland.pdf

"Razing historic buildings results in a triple hit on scarce resources. First, we are throwing away thousands of dollars of embodied energy. Second, we are replacing it with materials vastly more consumptive of energy. What are most historic houses built from? Brick, plaster, concrete and timber -- among the least energy consumptive of materials. What are major components of new buildings? Plastic, steel, vinyl and aluminum – among the most energy consumptive of materials. Third, recurring embodied energy savings increase dramatically as a building life stretches over fifty years. You’re a fool or a fraud if you claim to be an environmentalist and yet you throw away historic buildings, and their components.

The World Bank specifically relates the concept of embodied energy with historic buildings saying, “…the key economic reason for the cultural patrimony case is that a vast body of valuable assets, for which sunk costs have already been paid by prior generations, is available. It is a waste to overlook such assets.”

I said earlier that in the US we haven't generally made the connection between sustainable development and historic preservation, but that there was one notable exception. The exception is Smart Growth. Dick Moe brought the preservation movement – with many of us kicking and screaming – into the forefront of Smart Growth…as well we should be. There is no movement in America today that enjoys more widespread support across political, ideological, and geographical boundaries than does Smart Growth. Democrats support it for environmental reasons, Republicans for fiscal reasons, big city mayors, rural county commissioners, there are Smart Growth supporters everywhere. The Smart Growth movement also has a clear statement of principles, and here it is:

• Create range of housing opportunities and choices
• Create walkable neighborhoods
• Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration
• Foster distinctive, attractive places with a Sense of Place
• Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost effective
• Mix land uses
• Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty and critical environmental areas
• Provide variety of transportation choices
• Strengthen and direct development toward existing communities
• Take advantage of compact built design.

But you know what? If a community did nothing but protect its historic neighborhoods it will have advanced every Smart Growth principle. Historic preservation IS Smart Growth. A Smart Growth approach that does not include historic preservation high on the agenda is stupid growth, period.

Historic preservation is vital to sustainable development, but not just on the level of environmental responsibility. The second component of the sustainable development equation is economic responsibility. So let me give you some examples in this area. An underappreciated contribution of historic buildings is their role as natural incubators of small businesses. It isn’t the Fortune 500 that are creating the jobs in America. 85% of all net new jobs are created by firms employing less than 20 people. One of the few costs firms of that size can control is occupancy costs – rents. In downtowns and in neighborhood commercial districts a major contribution to the local economy is the relative affordability of older buildings. It is no accident that the creative, imaginative, start-up firm isn’t located in the corporate office “campus” the industrial park or the shopping center – they simply cannot afford those rents. Historic commercial buildings play the natural business incubator role, usually with no subsidy or assistance of any kind.....

The area of preservation’s economic impact that’s been studied most frequently is the effect of local historic districts on property values. It has been looked at by a number of people and institutions using a variety of methodologies in historic districts all over the country. The most interesting result is the consistency of the findings. By far the most common conclusion is that properties within local historic districts appreciate at rates greater than the local market overall and faster than similar non-designated neighborhoods. Of the several dozen of these analyses, the worst-case scenario is that housing in historic districts appreciates at a rate equivalent to the local market as a whole......

So there are some ways that historic preservation contributes to sustainable development through environmental responsibility and through economic responsibility. But I saved the third area – cultural and social responsibility – for last, because in the long run it may well be the most important.

First, housing. In the United States today we are facing a crisis in housing. All kinds of solutions – most of them very expensive – are being proposed. But the most obvious is barely on the radar screen – quit tearing down older and historic housing. Homes built before 1950 disproportionately house people of modest means – the vast majority without any subsidy or public intervention of any kind. So you take these two facts – there is an affordable housing crisis and older housing is providing affordable housing and one would think, “Well, then, there must be a high priority to saving that housing stock.” Alas, not so.

For the last thirty years, every day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year we have lost 577 older and historic houses, over 80 percent of them single-family residences. The vast majority of these houses were consciously torn down, were thrown away as being valueless. For our most historic houses – those built before 1920 – in just the decade of the 1990s, 772,000 housing units were lost from our built national heritage.

Affordable housing is central to social responsibility; older and historic homes will continue to provide affordable housing if we just quit tearing them down. At least as important as housing affordability is the issue of economic integration. America is a very diverse country – racially, ethnically, educationally, economically. But on the neighborhood level our neighborhoods are not diverse at all. The vast majority of neighborhoods are all white or all black, all rich or all poor. But the exception – virtually everywhere I’ve looked in America – is in historic districts. There rich and poor, Asian and Hispanic, college educated and high school drop out, live in immediate proximity, are neighbors in the truest sense of the word. That is economic integration and sustainable cities are going to need it."

The entire article is a great read and resource. The author is a well respected preservation and economic consulting expert.


Renee said...

Ponce Court's design guidelines state that if a repair or maintenance is not specifically defined in section 58-3 then a COA or COE is not required. There are five items listed and there is no mention of non-contributing structures. Does that mean that non-contributing structures do not require a COA or COE?

Sec. 58-3. Definitions.
The following words, terms and phrases, when used in this chapter, shall have the meanings ascribed to them in this section, except where the context clearly indicates a different meaning:
Certificate of appropriateness means a document evidencing approval by the historic preservation commission of an application to make a material change in the appearance of a designated historic property or of a property located within a designated historic district.
Certificate of exemption means a document evidencing approval by the historic preservation commission or its authorized designee of an application to make a change other than a material change as defined by the design guidelines adopted as part of the ordinance designating the specific local historic property or local historic district.
Exterior architectural features means the architectural style, general design and general arrangement of the exterior of a building or other structure including, but not limited to, the kind or texture of the building material and the type and style of all windows, doors, signs and other appurtenant architectural fixtures, features, details or elements relative to the foregoing.
Exterior environmental features means all those aspects of the landscape or the development of a site which affect the historical character of the property.
Historic district means a geographically definable area designated by city commission as a historic district pursuant to the criteria established in section 58-62.
Historic property means an individual building, structure, site, object or work of art, including the adjacent area necessary for the proper appreciation thereof, designated by city commission as a historic property pursuant to the criteria established in section 58-63.
Material change in appearance means a change that will affect either the exterior architectural or environmental features of a historic property or any building, structure, site, object, landscape feature or work of art within a historic district, such as:
(1) A reconstruction or alteration of the size, shape or facade of a historic property, including any doors or windows or removal or alteration of any architectural features, details or elements;
(2) Demolition or relocation of a historic structure;
(3) Commencement of excavation for construction purposes;
(4) A change in the location of advertising visible from a public right-of-way; or
(5) The erection, alteration, restoration or removal of any building or other structure within a historic property or district, including walls, fences, steps and pavements, or other appurtenant features.

sd said...

This post makes a great point that needs to enter the conversation, as it's become all too easy for anyone to raise the "green flag" to justify their position, implying that their opponents are anti-environmental.

Green is not an either/or proposition. What's required is that people recognize the two facets of green: "original green" and "gizmo green."

The original green meant designing houses that captured cross breezes, were built more of human energy than petroleum energy, used porches to reduce heat gain, were arranged compactly, making walking and rail viable transportation options, used less consumptive materials and, yes, were of more modest square footage. It also meant living in relative proximity to where your food was produced.

Gizmo green is the application of technology and other mechanical methods to reduce the impact of how we live today. Great strides have been made here in terms of home energy efficiency, materials recycling, and consumption of resources.

Here's the rub: One or the other ain't gonna solve all our problems. Future sustainability will require incorporation of *all* best practices, old and new. And even then, if the focus is only on the building itself, it can only take you so far.

After all, living in a zero-impact house doesn't go so far if you're still driving 30 miles to work and eating 3,000 mile Caesar salads.

My point? Let's remove green superiority from the LHD debate. I think it's fair to say that folks on both sides -- at least 'round these parts -- have noble intentions in that regard.

Let's keep the focus on what our shared desired outcomes are and what constitutes the best tool(s) or method(s) for getting there. That's what this is really about.

Anonymous said...

I disagree. Environment issues are an important part especially since here in Oakhurst preservation wins out environmentally over demolition. One of the things not mentioned here is the number of large old trees that are lost every time a new house is built here in Oakhurst. I have seen very few new construction projects that didn't leave one of these beauties either dead or dieing.

Facilitator said...


Whether or not alterations, additions, or repairs to a non-contributing home require a COA or COE is determined by the design guidelines. In the Clairmont District only demolition, additions, and new construction require COA. This means that moving a window, moving a door, re-roofing, screening a porch, etc. do not require a COA. Additions and new construction must be reviewed in ensure that the design does not detract from the historic resources (homes) that are being preserved. This does not mean that a modern home design could not be built. When the community worked on the design guidelines for the original nominated area we included a lot of flexibility for non-contributing homes and new construction. The Department of the Interior guidelines for historic preservation allow for this flexibility.

As for your direct question, it would appear that demolition of non-contributing properties and new construction would require a COA in the Ponce Court district. Other alterations to non-contributing would not. However, I am not an expert on the ordinance and will confirm this is the case. Thanks.

EAR said...

Additions to buildings also result in about the same loss of trees as new construction. Many of the new houses have much a smaller footprint than those that are added on to because of how the storm water regulations work. New buildings generally occupy the same footprint of the former building, but appear larger because they are forced to be 2 story.

No one wants a 2 bed 1 bath house, yet the vast majority of the homes in Oakhurst were originally of this configuration. Let's face it, at some point most of these houses will be either added to or demolished. Most people are completely unrealistic about what they say they want and what size they picture it becoming. Everyone who thinks that the in-fill housing is too large may be shocked to find out that these houses have less space than what they would ask for when considering their own project.

As far as green building is concerned, there are things that were done in the past that achieved certain "sustainable" results like porches and ventilation and then there were miserable failures like no insulation and gabled facades leaving large windows completely unprotected from solar heat gain. SD is right that there is a "gizmo" mentality about adding a green feature or two as a status symbol. This does not mean your building is green and you are living a responsible lifestyle. A true green building has a symphony of features working together that include fundamental lifestyle changes. There are many lessons to be learned from the past as well as many failures that should be forgotten. The old adage "they don't build 'em like they used to" does not necessarily apply to buildings as our codes force us to build stronger, more energy efficient buildings.