While wandering, I read someone's lament about apparent building restrictions in a neighborhood.
Since I serve on my local historic district commission
the subject got my attention. The writer's comments seemed to lack an understanding about the charge and responibility of a review process and team. Here was my response.
I sit on an historic district commission, the function of which is to assess whether or not changes in a district are "appropriate". People who move into the designated districts in town are informed of this before ever
purchasing a property. All deeds are tagged and this is quickly ascertained during the title search.
"Appropriate" does NOT mean that the districts should be frozen in time, but whether or not some new structure is going to fit in. This takes into account a new project's scale, architectural diversity, how the neighborhood is used [i.e. is it primarily residential, mixed commercial/residential etc etc], what existing traffic patterns might be ~ can changes be incorporated without adversely impacting on others? Sometimes the review process will result in determining types of materials, but this cannot be arbitrary.
For example a 300 year old church sought to build an addition and initially wanted to use a cheap aggregate dyed concrete product as part of the foundation. This would have put the material right up against sturdy red sandstone and the difference would have been significant. The church would have been better off asking to build a modern construction; but they wanted the new structure to "match" with the rest of the project.
Such commissions are, admittedly, often comprised of people without formal training in architecture, landscape planning or the like. But I've seen architects and engineers on such commissions who come with their own aesthetic agendas and can gum up progress more effectively than any amateur on a commission.
Contrast our historic districts, however, with the off the shelf mediocre crap that quick-buck developers slap up in a couple of months and
then pawn off ~often with two or three garage bays as the most prominent "architectural detail" on the property, and it makes me proud to live in and make decisions about, what gets built in an area. Personally, I often find myself taking issue with real-estate spectuators harping on and on about a developers' property "rights" when their are interested only in quick bang for the buck, and screw what the twon and neighbors thing as long as I can buy low and sell high. Their interst in people's "property rights" is non-existant. It's their "wallet rights" they care about. The rights of people with property who plan to and intend on living in the area for awhile is entirely different matter, of course, and warrants respect.
Mind you, people serving on such commissions OUGHT TO park their egos outside the door before deliberating. And living in districts that have design review commissions calls for a recognition that as long as people are involved in a settlement, then the area is alive and ought to grow in ways that exhibit change and aesthetic fertilization of ideas and welcoming of the new.
Historic districts in much older cities in the world creatively incorporate the old and the new together. Yes, each of us own our own plots, but how we tend to them affects those around us. Put up a corrugated steel and concrete block next to a 17th century wood frame structure can work, but it has to be thoughtfully done. Sinking a building's foundation three levels down affects the neighborhood's groundwater supply and septic discharge areas. In such instances, ones' "property" expands beyond the readily discernible borders and can have direct adverse impact on the neighborhood.
Finally, review is not merely design police in action. Or it ought not be. If there is a designated area whose commission is behaving otherwise [in the USA at least] their members need to more closely review the guidelines of construction and design found at the Dept of Interior's National Park Services website Guidelines for Historic Properties
. The section on "new additions
" is worth checking out as well.
Sorry this is so long. Touched a nerve.
WHAT ARE AN HISTORIC DISTRICT COMMISSION'S RESPONSIBILITIES?: The Historic District Commission reviews all plans for the construction, alteration, repair, moving or demolition to structures in the Historic District with consideration given to: 1. The historical or architectural value and significance of the structure and its relationship to the historic value of the surrounding area; 2. The general compatibility of exterior design, arrangement, texture and materials proposed to be used; and 3. Any other factor, including aesthetic, which it deems pertinent.
PIX CREDITS: 1- The Art of Northam Robinson Gould; 2- National Park Service Guidelines for Historic Properties |
Labels: artists, community planning, historic preservation