Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Creating a "Proactive" Preservation planning policy at the community level

The reason you often hear the headline "last minute efforts to save historic building" is that Preservationists tend to be reactive rather than proactive. We often do not know a property is endangered until it is far too late to save it or the cost of saving that building has escalated due to the last minute nature of planning and costs to save it.
Property like this one could be saved if preservation groups know early on the issue

The Oakley train station is a prime example of how with better planning , there could have been a better outcome. Clearly the owner didn't have the resources to save the building and had they reached out sooner to  the preservation community this building could have been saved. I think it still could be saved in fact.This Building is prime example of a building suitable for adaptive reuse. Right off the top of my head given the 45,000 cost to move it 20K for a lot probably another 50k for build-out, this would have been affordable unique office or retail shop space, a one of a kind house. This building could even be disassembled and warehouse for later reconstruction. It is a case of waiting until the last minute and an owner not realizing he had options until its too late..Frankly he could put it on Ebay with a minimum 20k bid with it having to be moved in 90 days and a bet some train buff would buy it, cut in in sections then reassemble it somewhere for a private train collection. Clearly it would be ideal to keep it where it is but anything would be better than its loss?

It doesn't have to be that way and it gets down to a more proactive approach and it has to start at the neighborhood level. lets assume you are preservationist who either lives in a restored house or are restoring your home . Do you know who owns that house down the block? You know the one that looks a little (or a lot) run down . You should know because that properties condition and if it has a VBML or condemn order on it could result in your being denied a home loan or paying higher insurance. Finding out who owns that property is easy enough the local auditors office website
Monitoring the status of rental property with unique features such as this one with its interesting corner bay, means you neighborhood is ready to move if the owner decides to sell or it becomes endangered

Since you probably received your tax bill in the last few days its also a good idea to check the accuracy of the  data there as you may want to appeal. I maintain a list that shows every property in my immediate neighborhood. Who owns it, if its owner occupied or rental and I rate property on a 1-5 scale. This is now done for every house in our neighborhood boundaries:

1. Owner occupied or under restoration, (well maintained)
2. Owner Occupied or rental (some remuddling).
3. Owner occupied or rental ( deteriorated)
4. Vacant with minor issues(restoration candidate)
5. Endangered Condemned,  nuisance declaration or in foreclosure

I also maintain a list of city demoed vacant lots that are in limbo. Not owned by the city and the owner has walked away. If there is dumping, PUT THE CITY ON NOTICE! They created the problem and its important since they received Federal monies to demo and didn't acquire the land that they be on notice to maintain it. If the city realizes neighborhoods will hold them accountable it may slow the 'blight=bulldozer' mentality of the city.

I also keep notes on  property may have been illegally converted to apartments without permits. This is important because when a property is in foreclosure the listing Realtor may not know these issues.  We send an email on every new listing in our neighborhood to the Realtor. In  it we give them a link to our website, let them know about things going on in our neighborhood and we put them on notice if  a property is illegally converted, has a VBML ,a condemn/nuisance declaration or other known issues that they as Realtor are obligated to disclose. This often scares off slumlord/investor buyers who if they know they have to deal with a strong neighborhood group will look somewhere else.

On the bad properties we try to work with the owners, advising them that we may be able to find preservation minded buyers and of course we watch the city inspectors like hawks and complain to their supervisors  when we feel property is being 'escalated' to VBML when its should stay under repair.

Putting some 'homework time' can pay off in the long run. Knowledge is power and by putting this info on a map and color coding it you can develop a strategy to save your neighborhood. On a larger scale we need a city wide "Preservation 911 site" where endangered property can be posted, collaborative strategies developed and endangered property can be marketed to Preservation minded buyers.

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