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.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rockaway Beach in Peril

Known as the poor man's Riviera, Rockaway Beach—a thin 7.5-mile snake of sand that hugs the coastline of Queens and Brooklyn in New York City—was once the summer home of the Vanderbilts, the Longfellows and the Astors. In the 1920s, many of these grand estates were divided and sold to developers, who built small communities in the popular architectural style of the time, and the bungalow colonies of Far Rockaway, N.Y., were born.
Now those beachfront bungalows and their public waterfronts are endangered: Only 100 of the 300 original houses remain. Dwarfed by massive new buildings—80 percent of all Queens nursing homes reside in Far Rockaway, and sprawling housing projects continue to grow, despite public easements—and unprotected by landmark status, the fate of these last bungalows is still up in the air. Though both national and New York City legislation mandates preservation and compatible development, the laws don't work unless someone enforces them.
Richard George in his bungalow, with high-rises in his back yard (Tim Davis)
That is precisely why Richard George, president of the Beachside Bungalow Preservation Association of Far Rockaway, Inc. (BBPA) is suing New York City's planning department and department of buildings, claiming they have violated their own initiatives. Founded 20 years ago, the association has tried a number of tactics to promote preservation. "Once I had to come and stand right in front of a bulldozer," George says. That was in 2001, and until last year, the city was still approving demolition permits. So George's group is taking the fight off the construction site and into the courtroom to protect the integrity of this humble neighborhood.
Rockaway Beach's six-mile boardwalk (the country's second longest, after Atlantic City, N.J.,) was once adorned with bathhouses and brothels, amusement parks and luxury hotels, which bloomed to life in the summer and were left sleeping for the winter. But during post-World War II expansion, Rockaway experienced the same decline that faced nearby places like the Bronx or Jersey City: Suburban settlements bypassed areas directly outside the metropolitan center, leaving boroughs subject to blight.
Their location, 20 miles from Manhattan, makes the bungalows particularly difficult to protect. Anthony C. Wood, longtime New York preservation activist, supports Richard George and his heroic efforts to save the houses. "These bungalows are really diamonds in the rough," he says. "Part of getting people on board is to get them to see the buildings, to fall in love with them. But the fact that they are so physically remote makes it hard. If they were in Manhattan, there'd be an army to protect them."
Dwarfed in Rockaway Beach (Tim Davis)
Many of the bungalows in this neighborhood—stretching from Beach 24th St. to Beach 27th St. between Seagirt Boulevand and the boardwalk in the Wavecrest area of Far Rockaway—were designed as soldier's housing in nearby Gravesend, then hauled by barge around the bay after World War I. The colony, built 80 years ago on the site of what was once the Dickerson estate, served as a humble summer retreat until its comeback in the mid-1980s.
The Beachside Bungalow Preservation Association was established in 1984, when year-round residents started to trickle into Rockaway Beach. But at the same time that the houses were at last owned instead of rented, and properly tended, development sprouted all around them. The 1918 deed from the four-acre Dickerson estate clearly affirms that an easement—guaranteeing public access to the waterfront—be preserved, but it wasn't until bungalows were demolished and easements violated that the association sprung into action.
In 1988, property owner Zion Halilli sold off his one-acre waterfront parcel to developers, who razed more than 50 bungalows on three city blocks. "They did it in the winter, when most of us weren't around," George says. "By the time we got back in the spring, they were gone." Yet the lot remained empty until 1998.
That's when the New York State Housing Trust Fund Corporation received an application from the Queens-based Margert Community Corporation to erect a multi-story apartment building there called Wavecrest II, despite the colony's easement. Magert originally promised garden apartments but later decided the building would contain 122 units of low-income housing.
"If public easements are ignored, it paves the way for the place to be chopped up, for further erosion," Wood says. "The sense of place is kind of what hangs in the balance."
Built on the site of 50 demolished bungalows, Wavecrest II looms above a modest bungalow. (Tim Davis)
Although the association challenged the application on the grounds that it would illegally usurp public access to the waterfront and violate federal and city laws, it was too late. Many Queens political heavy hitters, including former Borough President Claire Shulman and Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, supported the Wavecrest II application.
No one seemed concerned with the impact a six-story building would have on the modest neighborhood of one-and-a-half story, single-family homes—or with the legal clause that requires appropriate development. Neither did officials consider the easement, the right to ease, accommodation, and privilege to use land owned by another person. Both Margert and the city's planning department refused to comment for this story.
According to the Coastal Zone Management Act, which Congress passed in 1972, one section, Title 16, Chapter 33, Sec. 1452, states should give "full consideration to ecological, cultural, historic, and esthetic values as well as the needs for compatible economic development" and maintain "public access to the coasts for recreation purposes" while assisting "in the redevelopment of deteriorating urban waterfronts and ports, and sensitive preservation and restoration of historic, cultural, and esthetic coastal features."
Rockaway Beach juxtaposition (Tim Davis)
The New York City Waterfront Revitalization Program (WRP), adopted in 1982 and revised in 1999, is the city's own version of the Coastal Zone Management Act, intended to locally enforce the national act. In its own charter, the program states, "The guiding principal of the WRP is to maximize the benefits derived from economic development, environmental preservation, and public use of the waterfront, while minimizing the conflicts among these objectives. Through individual project review, the WRP aims to promote activities appropriate to various waterfront locations."
But if compatible development balanced with aesthetic values is the goal of the law, the reality is quite different. Today Wavecrest II hovers over the bungalows, violating their easements and spreading its pink brick wings across Beach 14th Street. Yet if the BBPA has its way, that will all change.
"They built private property on a public easement," George says. "The Coastal Zone Management Act says development has to be compatible with the character of the neighborhood, and they did not properly conduct a detailed environmental impact study. So the project is null and void." The association wants the city to restore the easements, perhaps even removing developments like Wavecrest, and protect the bungalows from future demolition. It hopes to require the city to review past applications and reverse inappropriate and illegal development.
"There are precedents for this sort of action," Wood says. He's referring to the "too-tall" tower at 108 East 96th Street that, due to a zoning error by the department of buildings, was forced to demolish its top 12 floors.
It could be months, even years, before the lawsuit is decided. But in the meantime, development on public easements and demolition of bungalows has temporarily come to a halt. Key city players are now behind his association, George says. "We even had the Astors come out here and give us support," he says. "Just like in the old days."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What does listing on national historic register really mean?

It only took one bulldozer to quickly reduce a nearly 200-year-old house on a busy thoroughfare outside Albany, N.Y., to a pile of rubble this past May. Built in 1805, the timber-frame property had been one of the last remnants of the days when working farms, not shopping centers, strip malls, or housing developments, dominated the city's suburbs.
The John Wolf Kemp House was one of some 77,000 listings on the National Register of Historic Places, which the National Park Service—not the National Trust—administers. But that designation couldn't stop the building's owner from razing it to make way for a $12 million extended-stay hotel.
The belief that inclusion on the register renders historic structures or sites impervious to demolition or change is a widely-held misconception, as is the idea that owners are restricted from making alterations to properties once they're listed. Such myths can prevent the register from being as effective as it might be in bringing acclaim to historic properties and offering a measure of protection through mandated review to significant buildings and landscapes that stand in the way of federally funded projects, experts say.
"The register really exists to protect historic property owners from a government action that would impede or devalue the nature of their property," says New York State Parks Commissioner Bernadette Castro, who is a member of the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, which comments on projects that would affect National Register-listed properties. "But there is confusion, and it is unfortunate. If your property is on the National Register, it does not mean you cannot paint your house any color you'd like," Castro continued. "It does not in any way mean you can't sell your property or pass it on to your heirs. Some people even think they have to let the public into their house once it's on the register. We get that question all the time."
In fact, properties that are deemed eligible for the register but not formally listed on it still receive the same consideration from the Advisory Council. So in the case of nervous owners, anxiety is unwarranted: Whether they agree to have their property listed or not, the limited protection that the register affords will be extended to them.
In the past five years, 272 properties have been removed from the register, but not necessarily because they were demolished. The Park Service subtracts buildings from the register not only when they are destroyed but when they're dramatically changed or moved from their original location. However, since sites are only taken off if a change in their status is brought to the Park Service's attention, there are no exact figures of how many register properties are lost annually.
Authorized under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Register exists to assist in public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect historic and archaeological resources, according to its official Web site. Properties listed on the register include districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that are significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture.
To be eligible for the National Register, a structure or site should be associated with significant historic events or people or embody distinctive architectural characteristics of a specific period. Generally, the candidates must have achieved significance more than 50 years ago to be considered for inclusion. Historic buildings that have been relocated or reconstructed are generally not eligible.
Listing on the register gives a property special consideration by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation if it would be in any way affected by projects that the federal government—or those that would use federal funding or require federal licensing—undertake. The council does not have the power to prohibit changes to a register property, but it does ensure that historic values are considered in the federal planning process. In addition, the council can suggest mitigation, such as documentation of a building or landscaping around a new development, prior to changes taking place.
Being on the register also makes owners of commercial property—including rental property—eligible for federal tax credits and qualifies them for federal assistance funds for preservation, when money is available. Most states have set up a parallel state-level register to which properties listed on the National Register are automatically added and the same oversight standards apply.
When the National Register was created, the nation was booming, and Americans were paying little attention to the potential value of historic properties. Urban renewal—which usually meant widespread demolition—and the federal highway program were in full swing, so the National Historic Preservation Act and the subsequent creation of the National Register were significant breakthroughs for preservationists.
"It created a check-and-balance system that we never had in this country before," says William J. Murtagh, who was the register's inaugural "keeper," a position he held for 14 years. "Before, preservationists had no legal part of the planning dialogue. Now, preservation is no longer the purview of a volunteer constituency; it's a formal part of the planning process."
At its inception, says Murtagh, the register "was never considered to be anything but a restriction of what the federal government could do to us and our property using tax dollars. It has absolutely no restriction on what the private individual does with his property."
Listing a property on the National Register can provide owners with intangible benefits as well, supporters say. It draws attention to a site, giving it a cache that could increase its value, or, in the case of an historic hotel or landmark, attract more visitors and boost business.
"We think the recognition is the most important incentive" for owners to list their properties on the National Register, says Carol Shull, its current keeper. "The recognition of the register can bring people to a community because they know the buildings there have historical integrity," she says. "It also can change the way communities view themselves by getting local people to support and preserve significant structures and landscapes."
In the end, it is local officials, not the federal or state governments, that wield the real power over the future of historic buildings and sites through zoning laws and historic districts, which sometimes set up strict guidelines about what owners can and cannot do with their properties—from restrictions on everything from paint color to windows.
"You can put a building on the National Register one day and demolish it the next," says Frank Quinn, director of Historic Preservation for Heritage Ohio. "It's the local listing, through a review board or district commission, that really maintains the physical appearance of a building."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

You can be green and historic

Thom Day and Dennis Scott knew instantly that their Chicago bungalow was meant for them the moment crossed the threshold during a house tour last summer. They loved the vintage trim, wood floors, windows, and, in the attic, denim scraps used as insulation. Built in the 1920s, the house had been renovated as a "green bungalow" as part a project the city of Chicago launched last year.
Defined as cottages with a low-profile roof and single attic dormer, bungalows account for about a third of Chicago's single-family houses. Most of the city's 80,000 bungalows were constructed between 1900 and 1940.
"Energy efficiency wasn't around when the bungalows were built," says Charles Shanabruch, executive director of the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association. "This is a great idea. The project gives people new ideas, directions, products, and materials to work with."
Day and Scott paid $143,000 for the house and moved in last September. They live in Chicago's Marquette Park on the same block as three other previously vacant bungalows that were restored in a way that conserves energy and materials. The "green bungalow" project is part of Mayor Richard Daley's strategy to make the Windy City known as an environmentally friendly place.
"We wanted to take these historic buildings and develop the green technology without destroying historic details," explains David Reynolds, the deputy commissioner of the city's department of environment. To restore the bungalows, the city's housing and energy departments worked with the Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, the Southwest Home Equity Assurance Program, the Greater Southwest Development Corp., and the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association. "Each of the not-for-profits bring their own expertise and strengths," Reynolds says.
All of the four houses had been foreclosed about five years ago and were boarded up when they were chosen for the program in 2001. Each was to be developed according to a theme: handicapped-accessible, home office, young professional's home, and a classic bungalow.
"Everyone who worked on the project tried to ensure that materials were shipped from local suppliers to conserve resources," says Nate Kipnis, one of the project architects. "It's fine and dandy to say we're using marble, but if it's marble shipped from Italy, it kind of defeats the purpose of energy efficiency."
Denim scraps insulate the attic of Day and Scott's classic bungalow, the one model where all the interior trim was saved and reused. The original water boiler stayed in the basement as an example of how bungalows were heated, but the house now uses a tankless water heater. Popular in Europe, the small, energy-efficient unit heats water on demand in seconds, while older models keep water warm all day, driving up gas bills.
In the handicapped-accessible bungalow, workers widened all the doorways, added a wheelchair lift to the side of the house, and planted gardens at wheelchair level. A cork floor conserves heat during the winter, and old newspapers and phonebooks insulate the attic. The kitchen countertops are lowered to wheelchair height, but overhead cabinets make the kitchen useful to non-handicapped owners. Geothermal energy, a system that saves hundreds of dollars annually, heats and cools the house via three 150-feet deep holes in the back yard.
The office bungalow's floor tiles are made of recycled tires, and it's insulated with rock wool, popular in the early 20th-century. Kipnis prefers it to other types of insulation because it's non-flammable and non-allergenic. Radiant floor heat and slate flooring keep the house warm in the winter: It's heated by a system that works as both a furnace and hot-water heater, circulating hot water through coils while a fan blows warm air generated by the hot water. The system draws outside air for combustion and can hold up to 40 gallons of hot water.
The roof of the young professional's bungalow has air-flow panels to keep the deck from rotting and solar panels that provide electricity. Windows are made from aluminum, and the trim from recycled wood. A special heating system saves money, since more heat is provided incrementally as winter sets in.
When spring arrives, the bungalows' landscaped gardens will bloom in an environmentally friendly way. In each garden, French drains recycle rainwater to maintain hardy native plants. The city selected varieties that don't need as much water as other exotic species.
Perhaps the bungalows' biggest contribution to the environment is their impact on their immediate surroundings on Fairfield Street. After all, the four previously forgotten houses have been sold to new owners (the most expensive bungalow was the young professional's model, which sold for $155,000). And, the city says, the green bungalows have inspired others to undertake similar renovations on bungalows in the up-and-coming Chicago Lawn and Marquette Park neighborhoods.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Why would I want my property included in a historic district?

From Portland Oregon http://www.portlandlandmarks.org/historic_district.shtml

Local historic districts are created to protect historic areas or groups of historic structures against loss of historic fabric and features and to prevent insensitive changes. The properties within a historic district are a source of community pride. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has found that local historic districts provide the following benefits to their communities:
-local districts protect the investment of owners and residents of historic properties;
-local districts encourage better quality design;
-local districts help the environment by contributing to the revitalization of neighborhoods and conserving the resources they contain;
-historic districts provide a tangible link to the past, a way to bring meaning to history and people's lives;
-a local district can result in a positive economic impact;
-local districts enhance business recruitment potential;
-local districts provide social and psychological benefits.