The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

12 June 2005

Preservation act II

Back in January, I linked to a Michael Bates complaint about the weakness of Tulsa's historic preservation ordinance.

It appears that things aren't much better in Big D, per this Dallas Observer story:

[T]here are myriad structures and neighborhoods on the National Register, many in South Dallas, that stand despite the fact that City Hall has done nothing to guarantee their futures. The Dallas Landmark Commission, charged with protecting these properties, is short-staffed, under-budgeted and must ultimately answer to the city council, which has to approve the commission's recommendations before a property or neighborhood is deemed historic.

And what happens if you go to the Landmark Commission?

Usually it's up to the property owner to seek the designation from the Landmark Commission, which meets once a month. The city provides considerable incentives for those who want to have their site designated, including an abatement program that freezes taxes on the property for 10 years, meaning if you buy a dilapidated structure for $50,000, then put $100,000 of work into it, you're going to pay taxes on only the initial investment for a decade. But some property owners don't want the designation because with it also come pages of regulations telling you what you can and cannot do to the house. Before you can even touch a local landmark, you have to get a certificate of appropriateness from the city, which most owners would rather not deal with.

The experience of one property owner:

Dennis Topletz says he only found out about the [Ellis House's] historical value when he went to City Hall to get a permit to do a little work on the place. He was informed not only that the building was on the city's teardown list, and had been for several years, but that before he could do any work on it, he had to get a certificate of appropriateness from the Landmark Commission, which then had to go to Austin for approval. (Technically, [Dallas city official Leif] Sandberg says, the certificate wasn't required since the Ellis House isn't a landmark, but the Landmark Commission still demanded one.) Around the same time, he was also served with a code-compliance violation for failing to mow the overgrown yard. Topletz says it was taken care of within two days, but he was ticketed anyway. He went ahead and paid the ticket, at the insistence of his attorney, who said it would cost more to fight the fine than just pay the $200.

This isn't the sort of thing which encourages taking care of historic structures. Oklahoma City guidelines specify: "A [Certificate of Appropriateness] is not necessary for routine maintenance work, which includes repair or replacement when there is no change in design, materials, color in certain instances, or general appearance. A CA must be obtained for all other projects that affect the exterior surfaces or spaces of properties in the historic districts." This is not to say that it's particularly easy to do things in Oklahoma City, only that there are fewer potential legal hoops through which a property owner may have to jump.

Dallas' rep as a place where you tear everything down and start over again is somewhat undeserved. But it's pretty clear that when tearing something down is the path of least resistance, the bulldozers will be busy.

Posted at 12:24 PM to Dyssynergy