Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Surprising Opposition To Historic Districts Grows In San Francisco

Pittsburgh, has very little of the extreme historic zoning they have in San Francisco.

The Times had a great piece about the revolt by many of the people, working to restore classic houses, one might expect to be avid supporters of these laws.

But even compatible plans can be frustrated by burdensome regulations, some property owners said.

“I consider myself a preservationist, and I encourage preservation,” said Robin Levitt, an architect who lives in an 1890s false-front Victorian house in the Hayes Valley neighborhood. Mr. Levitt said he abandoned plans to replace rotted staircases on the front of his house because historic preservation requirements were too expensive and time-consuming.

“When regulations make it prohibitive economically to make improvements on your property,” Mr. Levitt said, “it’s over the top for me.”

People tend to assume that giving a building or district historic status, instantly preserves the property. The reality is far more complex. Yes, It will make it hard or impossible to tear down the building--right now. But, unless there is lots of money available, it does nothing to fix or restore it. Often, it places barriers or costs that lead to the ultimate death of the structure.

A personal story, from NY which I believe to be true.

Back in the early nineties, I was involved in a group that put together art exhibits and other performance nights in the upper floor of a old courthouse in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The area at the time was a mix of historic brownstones, but seeing an influx of many poor immigrants.

A few of the people helping with the music events had dreams of opening a non profit music school in a beautiful abandoned police station across the street. These people loved the building and wanted very much to preserve it. They also, didn't have much money, and needed it to function well as a school.

Here--I found a post with pictures and some history.

From what I heard, a big problem they faced was that landmark status made it impossible to make significant changes to the building. In this case--they needed to remove the jail cells-which didn't exactly fit their needs and made using a large part of the building difficult.

Sadly, in the time since, the building has further deteriorated and now is very likely to be torn down. Amazingly, I later heard about an old police station in the Bronx that went through a similar problem and was torn down.

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