Your recent article, “Neighbors Clash About City Oversight of Union Hill” (Street Talk, June 3) was of special interest to me as a supporter of the Union Hill Historic District Initiative. Despite revitalization efforts over the past two decades, Union Hill has lost many houses to demolition, leaving gaping holes dotting the neighborhood landscape. In addition, many houses remain vacant awaiting renovation or demolition — whichever comes first.
The combination of vacant lots and houses is the key reason this neighborhood needs the protection of a city old and historic district. This zoning tool, administered by the Commission of Architectural Review, will raise awareness of the unique nature of Union Hill to attract new residents, avert unnecessary demolitions, which have to be reviewed and approved by the commission, and evaluate new construction for compatibility with the other houses in the neighborhood. To review neighborhood compatibility, the commission follows the secretary of the interior's standards for rehabilitation and its own design review guidelines.
Unfortunately, some opponents of the historic designation appear to be misinformed on what it means to be part of a district and what the standards and guidelines mean. Your article suggests that a city old and historic district and the commission will limit the type of building that can be built, or prevent a house from having a contemporary flair. This could not be more wrong. The underlying zoning for the neighborhood determines what can be built; the commission simply reviews the building for its exterior appearance based on the standards and guidelines. Modern buildings are approved by the commission and successfully constructed in historic districts on a regular basis. These newly constructed houses, while clearly present-day, generally respect the setbacks, roof lines, building massing and scale of surrounding structures.
Since 2006, the Commission of Architectural Review has reviewed and approved 592 applications throughout the city. Only seven have been appealed to City Council. An overwhelming majority, 98.5 percent of applicants, have successfully worked with the commission and city staff to an agreeable solution. It is extreme to suggest a moratorium on the creation of historic districts on the basis of a small number of appeals.
Union Hill is a unique neighborhood with distinct history and character clearly worthy of the zoning protection of a historic district. The majority of property owners have expressed their support to move forward for approval. Union Hill is at a tipping point: It can continue to be developed in cohesive manner guided by historic-district guidelines, or it can take its chances with unchecked demolition of more of Union Hill's historic houses and unregulated construction of architecturally incompatible new buildings. Hopefully, members of the Planning Commission and City Council will be listening to the majority of Union Hill residents as this issue comes before them.