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  • Lance Mannion
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    Wallkill, NY 12589

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I have to weigh in on the creation of a historical district. It is critical that certain rules are well established for the governence of the historical society that oversees the permits for repairs.

I have worked on houses for 15 years now and foun very few municipalities with historical societies that are easy to work with. In one situation in Allegan County, MI we ran into a brick wall of refusal to allow a family to side their house with an inexpensive siding that would match closely to what was there already because it was vinyl. Nor would they allow a roof of ashphalt shingles that would, from the ground, appear very similar to wood shakes, still an expensive shingle but not nearly as expensive as real cedar shingles. Both the roof and siding would have kept in line with the original nature of the house and been affordable to those who owned it. Instead the historical society refused and the house had to be razed. The owners of the house took a catastrophic loss - they had paid $105,000, after the house was razed - a $36,000 cost to them, they sold the land for $52,000. The shit of it was that when they bought the house they had already obtained permission from the HS then, but when they really needed to get it done and had the finances aranged a new board was in place and refused to allow them to move forward.

The best place I have found for historical homes was in Okemos, MI. They just buy the homes and move them to a historical village. They have some tendrils into certain areas of Okemos with historical signifigance but consider their first priority to be saving the structures of signifigance - including a great grant program. They also allow owners to commit alterations to areas not visible from the front. They get a signifigant amount of their funding from well organized tours, including bi-monthly dinners in a Frank Loyyd Wright house (that I roofed and made structural repairs on)hosted by the owner. Only 1.5% of their budget goes to administrative costs. They also have grandfathered bylaws, the changes of which only apply to a property if it changes hands through a sale. If you own or inherit such a property then the rules that were in effect when the property came into yours or your heirs hands apply.

Exiled in New Jersey

I read along, nodding my head in agreement as Professor Manion demonstrated that money does not talk, it swears, as Dylan put it. I made a connection; watching the fireworks on the river the other night with fellow Ocean Gate residents, I brought up the problem of our deteriorating boardwalk in our borough with a deteriorating financial base. I suggested each resident buying a board. A woman over 65 was horrified. "You won't get one cent out of me."

It was only when I began to type this comment that I realized that here, in the state that has gone to sleep, local governments have abused their trust and are busy shafting long time residents such as your neighbor, not by creating historic districts but by using government's power of Eminent Domain. They are busy now trying to bulldoze homes in Long Branch. I would hope Pop Mannion would have been up in arms, and not like so many mayors around here, have their fingers on the controls of the Caterpillars.


I forget which Heinlein book introduced the concept of TANSTAAFL, but it ought to be required reading for a lot of people.


The intellectual and ideological kin of your neighbor passed an initiative last year in Oregon breaking the back of land use planning laws that have kept Oregon from turning into northern New Jersey, and now every land owner in the state feels entitled to demand that the state either exempt them from all zoning restrictions or else pay them for any conceivable profit that they, their ancestors, or their great grandchildren might make/have made on the land in any possible universe.

The "good" news [?] is that this black[-top]mail bonanza hasn't cost the state quite as much as it might have because everyone is lined up at the zoning office claiming their free lunch and the state offices are so swamped by the number of applicants that they haven't been able to act on much.

And this is called "progress."


mac macgillicuddy

This reminds me to mention how upset everyone got when Bill Gates, who has already made so much money that the "Alice clause" applies to him (see Calvin Trillin), announced that he was retiring. And then, to make matters worse, Warren Buffet (I still get him mixed up with Jimmy), announced that he was going to give most of his "hard earned" billions to Bill's foundation, which is planning to do something about the poor state of healthcare among the world's children. What a waste, everyone said.

It also reminds me of the words of one of my college housemates who had to comment, upon observing that one of our friends who was gay was also very well off (so to speak). What a waste, my housemate said.


While I appreciate the slant of your post, I think you've picked a really bad example on this one. Wait till that neighbor actually opposes spending on clean tapwater, schools, roads and maintenance, firefighters and cops before you rip into him.

Designating the whole neighborhood as a historic site seems like a pretty big overreach just to preserve the parts of town that you think are important. The local historic commission (at least in the city I grew up in) is a great reference source, but generally a body that is more concerned with making itself feel important, than actually preserving historic character.

That was definitely what I saw when I was a high school intern there years ago. They will definitely nickel and dime a small homeowner and his/her architect for some minor changes to an 1860s house, but when the time comes to tear down an entire block and build a new steel hotel "progress must be served". It's the worst of both worlds, and at least in this instance I'm inclined to side with the ornery neighbor.


DanK and DuWayne,

I know historical preservation societies can be nuts. But no nuttier than most suburban homeowners associations. The difference is that the preservations societies usually finally have to answer to local and state governments and the homeowners associations answer only to themselves. And the kind of development that's going on around here is tending towards gated communities and "planned" ones. So we'll have nuts vs. nuts soons.

But getting on the register of historic places is not like putting yourself in a preservation area. There's really not much to it, like I said, mostly bragging rights for the town. We can put it on our welcome signs.

Every community needs to make its decisions for itself based on what's going on and what's being conserved or preserved. Here, it's a landscape and a sense of place more than actual buildings. There are few of them anyway and almost all of them are barns and outbuildings that are still being used as barns and outbuildings. The original farmhouses are already part of a musueum.

And Dan, you're assuming I never talked to my neighbor before. Or since. He's a good neighbor and a nice guy, but he's a type, and I wasn't ripping him as much as trying to characterize the type.

NJ, Pop Mannion's a believer in strict zoning laws. He had it easier than a lot of town officials elsewhere in that our town was pretty well built up as much as it could be by the time he came to office. And the people in town liked it the way it was, which was almost purely residential. No room for another shopping mall even if anyone wanted one next door to them.


Please don't think I am knocking all historical societies - just the nutty ones. I do think the problems that stem from historical societies gone wrong are the same same as home owners ass. - you get people who thrive on petty power trips and either don't care or (I suspect more often) don't notice that they are making the lives of their neigbors hell.

Well reasoned, well run historical societies are an absolute pleasure to work with. I love to work on restoring old structures to their original beauty. It really is a blast - even when trying desperately to make a F.L. Wright house water tight - which is very hard in MI. But trying to deal with the other sort of historical society is sheer hell.

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