How About Community Rights?
Historic 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.
“… a quiet parsing of realty…”
Did you mean “reality” ?
Corrected, thank you.
Randy Noles, Editor/Publisher of Winter Park Magazine wrote a “First Word” column for the Fall 2015 issue of his magazine: “When Only The Dirt Is Really Historic.”
His opening sentence is a zinger: “For a place that bills itself as ‘the city of culture and heritage,’ Winter Park does little to protect the ‘heritage’ part.”
Just look to the city of Orlando which established several residential historic districts in the ’80’s and ’90’s. Those neighborhoods have a quality and consistency that drove them to become the most desirable areas in Orlando. I had the honor of serving on and chairing that Historic Preservation board and saw firsthand the early resistance to “limiting” property rights and later the guidance homeowners received from the board to protect and appropriately enhance their properties. Preservation is environment- friendly, supports craftsmanship, and is a great investment.
It was a history of liberty that built the great Gamble Rogers homes and other private landmarks in Winter Park. Something about a few members of a government committee deciding what is beautiful and what is ugly just doesn’t pass the historic “smell” test. Suppose Capen, way back when, had presented his plans to such a government committee and he was met with an unenthusiastic, even hostile response, and told his plans were “ugly.” What then? He may have packed up and left town on the spot! New building is a form of new technology. Should the government have also stopped further audio technology advancements when the 8 track tape was invented? There is certainly nothing wrong with people, who in 2015 still choose to listen to their music on 8 track tapes. But I think all would agree that should be their decision, and not one that government imposes on everyone. Being a good neighbor means respecting the rights of fellow residents to improve their property as they wish, even if that means some old houses give way to new ones. For those who wish to save some of Winter Park’s finest historic homes, find a private way to do it please. We have more than enough government meddling in our business already around here.