Thursday, November 16, 2006

Historic Preservation, Part Deux

Just got through reading the Historical Preservation Review Board's report on a proposed new construction on two lots on Ridge Street (posted on the MVSNA blog), which awakened my inner libertarian. [Richard, where are you?] It also revived my qualms about the proposed extension of historic district designation to eastern Shaw.

In this case, the developer is proposing to build new dwellings on two vacant lots. He seems to have taken some pains to make the design compatible with the existing houses on the block, which the HPRB report acknowledged, but still asks for changes--having to do with the windows ("fenestration"), set-back, and roof line.

I've gone on a bit on this subject before. I guess my main problem with all this is the seeming vagueness of the standards used by the HPRB for its decisions and its apparent determination to make details such as windows and doors replicate those of some arbitrarily-chosen time in history regardless of considerations such as advances in design, materials, and energy-efficiency.

Also, why should a neighborhood have to conform to some Disneyfied idea of what it looked like at some selected point in time? Styles evolve, just as neighborhoods do, and it doesn't necessarily harm the quality of a neighborhood to have modern styles and structural material interspersed with those of a bygone era. We see this all over Europe and think it's just fine, but here we seem to want Colonial Williamsburg.

My other reservation concerns creating a financial disincentive to building new housing or improving what exists. There's a derelict shell of a house on my block where I'd love to see any kind of “fenestration” besides plywood sheets. (Floors, walls, and plumbing would be nice, too.) I'm not blaming that particular situation on the HPRB, but my point is why put up additional obstacles to fixing up eyesores or making someone's home more comfortable and secure?

I realize there are legitimate arguments to the contrary and maybe I'm doing the preservationists an injustice here, but I've heard enough stories to make me wary about putting too much power in a review board's hands. Let me say that I firmly believe in the desirability of historic preservation, but it eventually comes down to a question of what's reasonable and what's not. And how do you define that?


At 11/19/2006 7:56 PM, Blogger richard said...

Wassup with that bldg next to you anyway? That's the way so many buildings looked around here prior to 8 years ago.

Regarding Ridge St., What did the buildings look like that were on that site before they were demolished? I mean stylistically because we know they were delapidated.

The 400 block of N Street for example is in the historic district but i dont see any historic references to the new construction. And please go by 442 and 444 N St. and tell be if they look anything like what was on those sites before. In those two instances historic preservation is a joke.

At 11/24/2006 10:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neighborhood preservationists fit the Marx Brothers' maxim: "Whatever it is, we're against it." I have sat on countless HPRB meetings to hear the panel musing and rule arbitrarily on every range of detail that will guarantee that the owners will pay through both ends to implement and retrofit. We live in a historic slum for G-d's sake. I guess we should put astro turf back on the stoops, broken storm windows in the windows, and concretize our front yards decorated with Steel Reserve cans to become "authentic." I fault the HPRB entirely for the fiasco at the corner of 9th and Q to make the owner retain a totally unviable structure that collapsed during demolition. The inner crank in me morphs externally every time they demand builders to install multi-pane sashes in windows -- like that new building on RI and Tenth retrofitted with tiny panes (that's 18th century design, not late 19th century, which is most of our neighborhood, where single pane sashed prevailed in the front and cheaper, double pane sashes were used in the back.) I am likewise fit to be tied at the newest HPRB regulation which forbids owners of unpainted brick buildings to paint their homes. While I would hate to do that to my house, I am sure tempted just to spite those controlling bastards. A hex on them. Ray M

At 11/27/2006 1:08 PM, Anonymous Sam said...

Do whatever you can to avoid North Shaw from becoming part of an historic district.

1) Very few people understand what HPRB are meant to do and expect that any new construction will look exactly how they think new buildings did 100 years ago. So you end up with lots of pointless discussions.

2) Good design sells. Bad design does not. Regardless of what HPRB does approve and in my area they have approved plenty of good and plenty of bad.

3) The liberatarian in me really comes out when it comes to property development. As long as you stay within zoning regulations I don't think I should have a say in what you build. I will happily comment on whether I like or dislike it but its your property and you should be able to do what you want.

4) The need, and cost, for HPRB approval keeps many lots vacant which increases crime, etc.

At 11/28/2006 12:00 PM, Blogger richard said...

yes, i agree with sam 100%. i have seen before and after HPRB and they have the potential to Restonize historic districts.


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