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Pro Choice Preservation
April 2, 2002
I find the remarks of Landmarks Commissioners Ruthann Lehrer and Roger Genser ("Homeowners File Initiative Seeking Say in Landmark Designation," March 26, 2002) remarkable but not surprising.
First, they both try to dismiss the initiative by calling it "political" and "conservative." (In my obviously confused state, I thought a desire to preserve things the way they used to be was conservative.)
Second, Commissioner Genser states that we are spreading "misinformation" and, horror of horrors, using "fiery language." The problem of course is that despite several invitations to do so, not one Commissioner has ever pointed to one single piece of information we have provided as being incorrect.
At the well-attended meeting at Franklin School on February 28, we
passed out a detailed analysis of the Landmarks Ordinance which I will
stand behind 100%, along with the City's own
Third, Commissioner Lehrer criticizes us for putting landmarks in a negative light. This is simply not true; instead, they are the ones that have done so. On many recent occasions, several Commissioners, Lehrer included, have stated that nothing would be done unless supported by the affected owners.
Unfortunately, these words have rung hollow as the Commission designated or threatened structures of merit over the owner's objections, refused to permit remodels for specious reasons, and threatened the creation of historic districts north of Montana and in Sunset Park.
Despite these comments, the problem is created by the existing ordinance itself, a problem which is only augmented by the nature of the Commissioners. While I disagree with many of their comments, I believe the Commission, by and large, simply tries to make decisions which they believe to be best for the community.
Unfortunately, the ordinance, by giving them the right to sit in judgment on one's home, gives them a power they should not have -- why should "the community," as Commissioner Lehrer puts it, have a greater right than I have to make decisions about my home? And why should any small commission have the power to decide what "the community" wants, or is entitled to have?
This initiative simply creates a "pro-choice" environment for historic preservation. If the available incentives are sufficient to convince an owner to permit a landmark or historic district designation, that is certainly fine, as is the creation of new incentives. If not, however, no government bureaucracy should have the power to prevent remodels or the construction of new homes. This is the ultimate invasion of the personal rights of homeowners.
If the Commissioners mean what they have said, they should embrace the initiative, as should the Council. If they fail to do so, however, scores of volunteers will be in the streets gathering signatures in the near future in order to protect their rights in the ultimate political manner --through the ballot box.
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