Friday, September 21, 2007

Neighborhood Association III: This Time It's Personal

Yes, I recognize that "This Time it's Personal" was the tag line for Jaws II not Jaws III, but...

For those of you who haven't been paying attention to the comments on the blog, there's a raging debate about my OHNA entries going on.

This is entry #1.
This is entry #2.

I started to post the following in the "comments" section, but I changed my mind and decided to make it an independent post.

The picture at the left is a photo of my grandparents' home in Connecticut. My grandfather died a few years ago and my grandmother died a little more than a year ago. My mom and her sister inherited the house, and despite my passionate protests and very vocal expressions of heartbreak, they're selling it. This is relevant to the post, I promise.

Anyway, for those of you who have been keeping track, I am in favor of the Highlands neighborhood pursuing a historic district designation. Those who oppose the historic district designation have-- at least on this blog-- contended that those who favor the designation just don't understand the issue.

I feel like I understand the issue. I may be a newcomer to this particular debate, but I have personal experience with historic neighborhoods. Here was the comment-- a response to an anonymous commenter-- that I was going to make and decided to turn into a traditional blog entry.

Lordy. Can't we all just accept that there are two sides to this issue? And the two sides are not people who have the RIGHT idea and people who don't know what they're talking about?
Anon, since the beginning I have accepted the fact that you've done your research and come to Conclusion X. Please accept that I have ALSO done my research and come to Conclusion Y. I don't need to be "converted." I just want the Xs and Ys to come to a democratic solution where majority-- a REAL majority, a measured and CONCLUSIVE majority- makes the decision.

I do not have "ignorance of fact." I've read the same documents that you have; I just came to a different conclusion. A preservation district suits my own personal interests and fits in with my greater understanding of community. As I mentioned in one post or another, I am willing to abide by certain provisos. I don't see this as "sacrificing rights." I see this as agreeing to enter into a pact with my neighbors to preserve this beautiful, historic neighborhood.

I grew up in such a place. There was a neighborhood in my hometown where 90% of the homes were built in the 1600s and 1700s. It is, indeed, like visiting a museum. The preservation of these homes was for the public benefit (so few places left you can see true colonial architecture), but also to the benefit of the homeowners (property values are obscene). In this neighborhood, there are only a dozen or so "approved" exterior paint colors. You can't add onto a home unless the addition cannot be viewed from the road or the ocean. By car or by boat, a visitor to the town was supposed to "see" the historic footprint of the village. If a homeowner wishes to buck these provisos, it is a very long, very complicated, and very unforgiving appeal process.

In contrast, in the same town but a different neighborhood, my grandparents owned a house that once was also historic (although late 1800's and early 1900's architecture). They bought their home in the 70's and since then the homes around them have been bought by NY and NJ "summer residents" who have torn down the adorable cottages and rebuilt hideous (in my opinion) modern monstrosities. My grandparents are now dead and my family has put the cottage on the market and they are desperate to find a buyer who won't level the home and build a McMansion. And, frankly, it's just not going to happen. It will be sold (in fact, it's in negotiations as I write) and be torn down and a new home will be erected in its place. And a piece of history will be forever lost.

So, I GET this issue. And I get that you, Anon, claim to get this. You've read the same things that I've read and you've just decided that restrictions placed upon historically designated areas don't suit you and your lifestyle. That your plans for your home and your neighborhood do not match mine. Fine. I'm not going to tell you that if you talk to me or to Mr. Riddick that either of us will be able to bring you over to our side of the issue.

Listen, the Highlands ain't a colonial whaling village or my grandparents' summer cottage neighborhood, but the homes here are precious, beautiful, and unique-- I'm appalled that anyone would say that a historic home, however ratty, should be torn down and not rehabilitated. That's just my own experience and my own priorities. But can we just agree to disagree and move forward knowing that there are two equally educated and equally heartfelt positions? Maybe never the twain shall meet...

But that's okay.

The end.

Anyway, seeing as though there is nothing I can do to stop the sale of my grandparents' home-- 3 br, 1.5 bath, one block from Long Island Sound, water views from the porch-- drop me an email if you're interested in purchasing it. So far, three buyers have already fallen through. But don't you dare email me if you're planning to tear down this sweet little house to build a goliath. This is the home where I first learned to read. This is the home where my dying father had his last vacation. This is the home that my grandparents retired too-- their dream home. This is the home where I spent my summers fishing for crabs all day and reading all night. This is the home where both of my grandparents spent their last days.

Because the neighborhood has become one of elite summer homes and rental properties, this home's empirical history has no value in the real estate market anymore. This devaluation could have been halted had the neighborhood protected itself years ago. Now the house is just a plot of land with a disposable cottage. But not to me.

My 101 year old Louisville home is not disposable. It is a concrete representation of the history of this remarkable city. I have no emotional history in this place, like I do in my grandparents' home, but I sure intended to make my own history here.

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