Historic Preservation at the Expense of Liberty

There is a current movement in my neighborhood to designate the neighbor hood as Historical Preservation District. There are several historic homes and buildings in the area, some over 100 years old. The house that I live in is well over 100 years old.

What does it mean to property owners if the neighborhood becomes a Preservation District? It means that you no longer have the freedom to do what you wish with YOUR property. A review board will be established and you must submit any changes that you want to make to YOUR property to the review board for approval. I am not just talking about major changes. You would have to get approval for the color that you want to paint your house, the type of doors, windows, and roof. Any exterior additions or removal must be approved. Nor can you demolish a structure regardless of how dilapidated it is. You know, there is a reason homes no longer have those huge wooden framed windows with counterweights attached to sash cords. They weren't worth a damn and better, more efficient products became available. But the preservationists would have you use the old original style (regardless of how much such a custom product would cost these days).

I absolutely oppose this movement! I have lived in this neighborhood, and this home for over 50 years. This house and property belongs to me. I maintain it. I pay the taxes on it. I do not need or want "Big Brother" telling me what I can or cannot do with it. I feel so strongly about this issue that if the neighborhood were to go the direction of becoming a preservation district, I would sell the multiple properties that I own here and hope that the buyer would tear them down and build condos before the new guidelines took effect. I would then move to an area where I can still live free and have the freedom to live my life as I choose without needing the approval of the local busy bodies.

I do appreciate historical architecture and the preservation of historical landmarks up to a point. Those who feel that they must dictate how those properties are handled should put their money where their mouth is and buy the property, wrap in plastic wrap for all I care, but use your own money and resources to preserve it. But of course it is much easier to sit back and tell others how they should live.

There is a glaring example in my neighborhood of how bad this can be. A local businessman has operated a popular restaurant for many years. There is an old, dilapidated empty house next door to his restaurant. Since the restaurant owner was in need of more parking for his customers, he decided to buy the old house (at considerable expense) and tear it down to make more space for parking. Well, AFTER he bought the property, the local "big brothers and sisters" decided that he could not tear down the house and instead should be required to renovate and restore the house even though the renovation would cost far more than the property is worth. The restaurant owner fought this basic infringement on his right to do what he wished with HIS property. He ended up being fined $22,000, expending huge amounts of money in legal fees, and even being jailed for refusing to comply with "big brother's" orders. So now he has a broken down old house that he cannot afford to renovate even if he wanted to, he cannot tear it down, and he cannot sell it for anywhere near the amount of money he has invested. He has lost a huge amount of money and has now has a criminal record. The last I heard, he finally has thrown in the towel and is trying to sell the house, I'm sure at a considerable loss. Are the preservationist lining up to buy this "historic" home? Hell no. They aren't interested in putting their money where their mouths are, they just want to tell everyone how to live their lives.  The restaurant owner is a valuable asset to the community and a person who was an active participant in the overall revitalization of the area. An innocent businessman has been put through the wringer, had his freedom denied, been fined, jailed, publicly humiliated, and beaten down to the point of throwing in the towel. But an old dilapidated eyesore has been preserved. This is America?

The bottom line is that the people, and their right to liberty and freedom, is far more valuable and worthy of preservation than the structure they occupy.

Update January 2007: Our neighborhood council, the self-appointed "voice" of our community (even though their membership represents only a very small fraction of the residents) voted not to recommend making the neighborhood a preservation district and based on that vote, the proponents have given up pursuing the ordinance. Oohrah!

In other news; the dilapidated house mentioned above has burned for a second time. It's burned out shell is still standing.

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