Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Can History Repeat Itself?

Lisa Abbott, head of Bloomington’s Housing and Neighborhood Development department, addressed BPNA’s January 22nd meeting on the subject of historic preservation. It was not a talk just for antiques collectors. Reflecting on the process whereby McDoel Gardens Neighborhood became the city’s first conservation district, Abbott answered questions about what their example might mean for the Bryan Park neighborhood.

McDoel’s preservation effort “has increased property values by one-third since the conservation district process began,” as Carrol Krause reported in the Herald Times on November 17 last year. In the process, the balance shifted from rentals to residences. “Instead of being 60% tenants, McDoel is now 60% owner-occupied.

Running south of the hospital along the Rogers St. corridor to Patterson, McDoel Gardens is a district of modest homes, many of them bungalows. The neighborhood sought conservation status because the hospital and medical providers were buying up and demolishing houses, Abbott said. Conservation status offered demolition protection and allowed the neighborhood to define guidelines ensuring that new construction was compatible with the characteristic look of the neighborhood.

North of the hospital along Rogers is Prospect Hill, a locally designated historic district. Prospect Hill neighbors are now applying for conservation status under Indiana law, Abbott said. Two or three other neighborhoods in the city are considering doing the same. This is a long and labor-intensive process, Abbott cautions, involving:

· Taking an architectural inventory of all housing in the area to be covered

· Defining and justifying the district boundaries and writing a history

· Making formal application to the Historic Preservation Commission, which votes on whether to approve the petition

· Making the case to the City Council

· Informing every property owner of the pending decisions and their implications

At each stage of the process, public meetings are held to gather input and discuss the issues involved. If conservation status is granted, the decision is revisited in three years. At that time, a referendum is held to decide whether to keep the conservation status, discontinue it, or upgrade to historic preservation status under state and federal law.

Jan Sorby, BPNA president, says, “It is significant that many core residential neighborhoods are looking at conservation status as a way of gaining protections not offered by the city real estate code. Core neighborhoods also lack the protection provided by covenants in suburban subdivisions. It is up to us to take control of our fate, and this is one way to do it. This was our first meeting about conservation status, but it won’t be the last. Everybody’s input is wanted, if only to determine whether the neighborhood association should commit the time and energy required to become a conservation district.”

From January 2008 BPNA Neighborhood News

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