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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Expansion of historic districts appears headed to Planning Board

The HPC took up proposals to expand two historic
districts (dark shading above) at its Tuesday meeting.

UPDATE: The HPC moved the proposal forward to the Planning Board. All members voted for the resolution except the newest, Gail Smith Alexander, who abstained because she had come on the Commission since the proposal got under way.

My gut feeling Tuesday evening was that the Historic Preservation Commission was on a course to endorse the expansion of the Van Wyck Brooks and Netherwood Heights Historic Districts and send their recommendation on to the Planning Board.

(I had to leave before the final vote was taken, and HPC chairperson Bill Michelson had not returned a phone call as of this posting at 1:20 AM.)

The vote was only the third item on the HPC's agenda, the other two being minor matters, yet no decision had been made by 9:30 -- two hours after the meeting got under way.

Aside from a complaint by my back yard neighbor Allen that he had not received a notice in writing, the only major complaint came from a Gresham Road resident who wanted to know why the new district line stopped in the middle of his block.

It was in response to this question that Michelson said that the line was drawn "at the end of the foursquares" (an architectural style of the early 20th century) -- suggesting to this observer that the Gresham Road boundaries were subjective and leaving open the question of whether other boundary decisions were also subjective.

Michelson was at pains to explain that upwards of 300 people (his number) had attended various meetings with HPC members over the past few months, and that letters had been sent to each of the 230 property owners affected by the proposals.

Nevertheless, when I inquired about whether the former St. Stephen's church (now I Am's Temple) was aware that they have been included in the proposed expansion, Michelson said no particular outreach had been made to them and he was not able to say if they were aware of the change.

The argument that being in a historic district elevates a property's value was also deployed.

With thirty years experience as a real estate professional, I am highly skeptical of that line of reasoning. (And I live in an historic 1870 house.)

Back in the day (meaning the 1970s), there WAS a direct economic benefit through tax credits granted for rehabilitation and restoration work.

Those have long since disappeared and the truth of the matter is that your home's value is more directly related to the way your neighbors keep their homes up than it is to whether or not your property is in an historic district.

Even if you're in an historic district, if your neighbor's homes are lackluster, you're going to pay for that when it comes time to sell.

Barring any surprise in the HPC vote, the proposed expansions now go to the Planning Board, where the rules are somewhat different.

First of all, every property owner within 200 feet of the affected properties will get a certified letter informing them of the proposal and of the time and place of a Planning Board meeting where they may register their input.

Secondly, the Planning Board is far more meticulous about coming to its conclusions and is not generally given to being swayed by anecdotal evidence -- one way or the other.

In the end, if the Planning Board makes a positive referral, the final decision on whether to expand the historic districts -- and by how much -- rests with the City Council, which alone has final jurisdiction in the matter.

So, for any who are not happy with the proposals, your homework is laid out before you: Come to the Planning Board meeting when it is scheduled, AND reach out to your Council representatives and let them know what you think.

Any questions?

 -- Dan Damon [ follow ]

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