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More Support for Union Hill Designation

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Your story about the proposed Union Hill city old and historic district failed to report that every objective effort to gain consensus for this designation has shown that the majority of property owners are in favor of this issue.

In January an official city survey was mailed to every property owner in Union Hill. Sixty percent of those who responded chose to support the district. Union Hill house owners are simply seeking the same protection enjoyed by people in Jackson Ward, Spring Hill, Monument Avenue and 11 other Richmond old and historic districts.

Union Hill residents are passionate about this designation because our historic neighborhood is riddled with gap-tooth blocks. No less than 85 percent of the blocks in Union Hill have one or more vacant lots.

Houses that were built by working-class blacks and whites before the Civil War deserve respect and protection. The secretary of the interior agreed with that assessment, and in 2002 Union Hill was designated a national historic district. This means restorations are eligible for federal and state rehabilitation tax credits.

However, state and federal recognition doesn't provide legal, local protection from the demolition of historic structures or inappropriate new construction on vacant lots. Only city old and historic district designation will deter demolition of historic houses and ensure that new construction respects the scale and mass of the original structures.

The Richmond Commission of Architectural Review oversees city historic districts, and it follows the secretary of the interior's guidelines when overseeing building plans. New construction is to be of its time in design, yet must respect the existing setbacks, window and door patterns, roof lines, number of stories and other characteristics of adjacent original structures.

All we have to do is look at Church Hill North for examples of suburban-style homes that were built before it gained such protection to see what could go wrong in Union Hill. Builders and developers don't always do the right thing in established neighborhoods, especially in a neighborhood that is two minutes from Virginia Commonwealth University's medical campus, the State Capitol, Shockoe Bottom and downtown Richmond.

Union Hill's location makes it attractive to those who already live here, and we've worked hard to make it a livable and safe neighborhood. Now, all property owners are asking is that builders and developers live by the same standards that we are willing to live by to maintain the character and integrity of our historic community.
Elaine Odell
Union Hill

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