Sunday, July 20, 2008

Thoughts on the Hampton Terrace "debate"

National Register District is okay? So why not a local district? This is a question before the folks in the Hampton Terrace historic district. There are those who will oppose it until hell freezes over. Then there are those who moved in and invested thousands of dollars since that initial organizing meeting and canvassing in the spring of 1995. There is a small group wanting no part of it and bent on derailing the efforts made by others over the past 13 years. My perspective is drawn from my motivation back in 1995. I haven’t had significant discussion with either side in the current debate. What I would challenge both sides to look at what has happened since the effort to gain national district designation first began. Don’t dismiss it as the effect of a real estate bubble, the area lagged behind the Seminole Heights district on the west side of 275 both in prices and condition of the area today designated as Hampton Terrace.

National districts don’t endure forever. With enough alterations; with structures lost or destroyed the area can be undesignated. When the quest began, there were those who doubted the area had the density of contributing structures to even come close. In the years since, some that were not contributing have been restored to be contributing. Mohawk, a street that when I move to the neighborhood was the most blighted street, rivaled the streets near the old Riverview Terrace housing project. The south side of the street was all zoned commercial. Looming over the street was a two story iron I-beam structure. The south side was on a slide to low rent apartments mixed with commercial/industrial uses. Those who owned on the south side of Mohawk didn’t really care about what impact their decisions had on people who actually lived in the neighborhood. (more about this later)

That spring day back in 1995 didn’t meet opposition. Volunteers came out to help as soon as they heard what we were trying to do. At the time, I had doubts that we could meet the density goal by including Mohawk but it was the boundary between what had been lost and what was barely salvageable. . Today that seems to still be a threat.

Creative Loafing ran an article about the opposition to local district designation. The article talks about the Hampton Terrace Property Rights Organization and names three people who claim to be residents and all for preservation but totally opposed to a local district. Now help me out here, I might miss one person searching the Property Appraiser’s website but NONE of those 3 individuals have homesteaded property in Hampton Terrace. That goes back to commercial property owners who live elsewhere and really don’t have a vested emotional attachment to the area. We have encountered those folks time and again, they don’t care because they go home somewhere else.

The goal in 1995 that motivated me was neighborhood stabilization and attracting homeowners willing to invest in the neighborhood. In numerous studies from all over the country, local districts have been determined to have benefits far greater than the costs. Local districts protect the investments of owners and residents. Without some type of local regulation/ordinance, owners of properties designated as historic continue to have every right to renovate structures any way they like, including destroying them. Local districts encourage better design. Rebuilding and reconstruction, as needed for historic areas, uses local materials, local labor, and usually higher paid labor. Money stays in town. Local districts help the environment. The protection of local historic districts can enhance business recruitment potential. Preservation districts usually increase property values, and the worst you get is no different than the same area without a historic district.

So who should be calling for a vote, the folks that don’t have a homestead in the neighborhood? Should the objections of an absent, live elsewhere, property owner thwart countless hours of hard work by resident homeowners? Just as taxes are the price we pay for civilization, so too are limits on property rights.

So how many homesteaded property owners in Hampton Terrace are actually opposed? The question Creative Loafing never asked...

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