How About Community Rights?

How About Community Rights?

John Skolfield-2Historic Preservation brings to the fore strong opinions. While anger and emotion speak louder and are more readily heard, a quiet parsing of reality leads to better governance.

Let’s start with the old neighborhoods, homes of the 1920’s. I’ve a picture of ours under construction.  Homes like this were built by individuals with sensitivity to the surrounding neighborhood, born of pride in how one was perceived by friends and neighbors.

The “property rights” rallying cry is a bit curious when it comes from individuals who choose to live in this highly regulated city.  We willingly live with restrictions on setbacks, floor area ratios, height limitations, side wall articulation, etc.   ‘Don’t put your trash cart out a day early lest your neighbors suffer aesthetic degradation!’

Picture in your mind Park Avenue, a beautiful street of historic architecture, and replace all those buildings with downtown Celebration, Baldwin Park or Anytown USA. What do you have?

Would Saint Augustine be more beautiful if centuries-old homes could be replaced with contemporary lot-line-to-lot-line McMansions?  Have the historic areas of Charleston, SC, experienced a decline in value due to “government controls?” Do property owners have a right to replace beautiful with “ugly?”

Razing a slab-on-grade, shallow-pitched ranch house from the 1950s doesn’t warrant the level of community outrage that met the proposed demolition of Casa Feliz or the Capen House.  I get that, but the “art” we speak of stems from a time when home design and, indeed, our value as citizens, was focused outward.  The beauty, the scale and how a home presented itself to the neighbors passing by meant everything.  How the owner was perceived by the community was value enough.

Let us be good stewards of what we have. Let us persevere, and preserve.

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