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.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Local Historic Designation Is Worth It

Reader Opinion Piece
Local Historic Designation Is Worth It
by Deborah Mook

Shortly after moving into our Oakhurst home, I spent a day hunkered down in the Decatur public library, researching the history of the house. I was enthralled by the fact that we live in
a home that has housed several generations and has seen so much cultural change. I discovered a 1915 plot map of the East Lake Drive Land and Improvement Company showing the newly
created 15th district of the town of Oakhurst. I also found many of the old deeds. The first one shows the East Lake Drive Land and Improvement Company selling the property to Mr. J.H.
Phillips for the sum of $600 on November 1, 1915. The land was sold subject to restrictions which were in keeping with that time in history, and which I found fascinating. Let me just say
that I was astounded to see in writing that our property was touched from the outset by one of the darker sides of US history. I will use this as an example someday when I must explain
racism to my daughter. For me, this was a stark example that the neighborhood history is not always golden, but that it can really personalize and dramatize some larger lessons.

The character of Oakhurst is charming and meaningful. With one, and soon to be two, exceptions, my street is a tree-lined street of bungalows, a celebration of this architectural style.
This charming procession of bungalows is worth protecting. Currently, it is too convenient for developers to replace old houses with ones that change the character. Out-of-scale
houses command bigger profits but ruin the aesthetic appeal of the neighborhood. On our street there is one out-of-scale property and another under construction. Another half dozen
houses could be torn down and replaced with out-of-scale houses. At that point, the neighborhood will no longer look like a fitting row of bungalows but more like a block of town houses. Not only will the neighborhood no longer resemble its past, it will not be as attractive.

Obviously there are some who oppose the proposal for historic designation. Some of our neighbors are homeowners with genuine concerns which should be respected. However, there are others of the “opposition” whose motives I question. Firstly, some unknown fraction of folks with opposing signs in their yards have said that they don’t care about the issue and just put the signs there because they were asked to. Secondly, I fear that some opponents are developers or contractors whose motivation is purely economical. Intown areas, including Oakhurst, are ripe for the development picking. While people have the right to pursue their livelihoods, a genuine cry for help on the part of residents for protection of their neighborhood should trump an individual’s attempt to make a profit.

A recent letter to the Oakhurst Leaflet described the bungalow as an insignificant architectural building type. I beg to differ. The bungalow is the essence of the American dream: at the
outset, it created the opportunity for people who didn’t have a lot of resources to own their own home, and one that was beautiful and of which they could be proud. The style elevated the dignity of the working-class person; now it was not just the rich who could afford to own a beautiful home. The philosophy behind the style is that it is simple, handmade, personal, accessible to everyone, and elevates the human spirit through architecture. The bungalows are individualized by architectural and design elements, such as the Japanese-style motif incorporated into the roof line of our house. It would be a travesty to condemn these
beautiful homes to the trash heap in order for an individual to make a buck. Another sentiment I hear is that people don’t want “to be told what to do.” While this reaction is understandable on a visceral level, it doesn’t stand up to reality. Politely complying with rules is what being a part of a larger society is all about. We have limits on how fast we can drive, we must cut our grass regularly, our children must go to school on certain days and times. We chose to live with these rules because they form a framework within which we can proceed with our lives. Given the need to protect neighborhoods from destructive infill, we are asking to create an additional framework for our protection. LHD designation provides us with protection such that our historic neighborhood will continue to look like the neighborhood that made us want to live here.

Lastly, I will mention the impact of rising property values on our elderly neighbors. I am not certain that LHD will cause property values to rise any more than they already are; no one can
predict this. But, however it happens, rising property taxes do represent a hardship for the elderly. This problem can be addressed through legislation specifically directed at it. There is
a proposal, for example, that it might be possible to place a cap on the property taxes due from these neighbors. Solutions such as this should be explored, and this problem does not necessitate abandoning the quest for LHD protection. I do not suggest living in the past. It is possible to renovate existing homes, and even build new ones within a framework that preserves the character of the neighborhood. If my husband and I stay in the neighborhood, it is our intention to renovate our house to add more space and modern conveniences. We advocate LHD knowing that we will have to go through the process of getting a certificate of appropriateness
and renovate within the framework we are requesting. The additional steps are worth it if our neighborhood is protected.


One said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I agree with so much of what Deb has written. Our neighborhood, and thousands of others nation wide, need protection from infill mcmansions that traditional zoning laws have been impotent to provide.

However, I am also part of the "opposition" that is mentioned. It saddens me that this neighbor questions the motives of "some fraction" of our group based on misinformation. This group is not and has never been funded by builders, contractors or developers.

I had the responsibility for most of the early donations myself and there wasn't a single business donation; again, there are no builders or contractors or developers participating in any of the opposition activities - this group is represented exclusively by neighbors; their activities were 100% funded by many neighbors donating what they could afford; this opposition group is a 100% grass roots movement that began because we had no voice in the LHD process.

Additionally, in the originally proposed district there are no lawn signs in anyone's yard who did not first sign a petition proclaiming their opposition to the proposed LHD. There are many who signed the petitions without lawn signs. Each petitioner also sent individual notices to the the HPC and the City Commissioners restating their opposition. It just isn't true that our group asked anyone who did not oppose the nomination to place a sign in their yard.

Although the positions of these two groups are more similar than they are different, we (the LHD opposition) believe that there are better options available to our community. Options that don't mandate relinquishing our design rights as property owners, but do protect our neighborhood from destructive infill housing and the unnecessary demolition of the bungalow homes. Unless and until other, less aggressive means are thoroughly exhausted, I truly fear that the current nomination has the potential to do more harm than good.

The boundaries decision of the HPC last Tuesday has suddenly expanded the district to include almost 1,000 homes. This neighborhood is already vibrant and exciting. How can we support adopting this LHD proposal without completing some level of feasibility/impact studies first. Wouldn't it be somewhat irresponsible for the city to approve this without having some realistic idea about how it might affect property values, economic growth and the Oakhurst culture that we all celebrate? This is a matter too important to Oakhurst to risk an OOPS after it is done.