Sunday, September 9, 2007
It seems that a very large can of worms has been opened in regard to the "teardown" ordinance enacted by the City Council last week. This action surely was prompted by the good intentions of both the Council and the historic preservationists. But somehow I feel that the main problem is not addressed and the truly important issues not faced. And telling anyone what they can or cannot do with their own property is offensive.
What is truly offensive can hopefully be addressed in a definitive way, avoiding the nebulous issues of style and taste. What is truly "offensive" is when a much bigger home is built on a small lot in a neighborhood of smaller homes. Views, light, trees and neighborhood character can be lost, all of which could be regulated with explicit controls. Excessive energy use and emissions could be controlled with explicit regulations. This is where the regulatory focus should be. And this could probably be accomplished in much less than 90 days.
When you get to the issues of style and taste, you get into a gray area. As Rob Hawkins said last week, although he lives in a truly historic log cabin from 1895 from Hahn's Peak, he enjoys the very contemporary home two doors down. I get a kick out of some of the homegrown innovations that can spontaneously happen that may not appeal to some on the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee. I loved a house I saw recently down in southern Colorado built out of free-form cement and wine bottles.
It has always seemed to be common sense to me not to build on a ridgeline (what animal do you know that would think a home there appealing:buffeted by the winds and plagued by the elements?). And why would you want to build a house that did not fit into its setting? It would be like putting the Mona Lisa in a chrome frame. But from another perspective, one must keep in mind that even Frank Lloyd Wright caught some sideways glances from his neighbors. Le Corbusier might have gotten run out of town. Some homes here truly do have historic significance, especially some of the bungalows. But some that are not exactly interesting would probably benefit from a new life - and it would breathe fresh air into the neighborhood. Truly valuable historic buildings should have preservation controls, but they should be designated as such clearly and simply. Not very many structures around town are historically significant, and they benefit from remodels that do not relate to the original structure.
An especially succinct and informative Web site is www.nationaltrust.org/teardowns/, and I would recommend that any new owner or prospective remodeler be required to read this article.