Six Reasons to Say No to Local Historic Districts

1. More Regulation!

Despite the opinions of all the “experts”, Historic Districts are simply another scheme for government control of private property, and despite all the slick reassurances and arguments to the contrary, Historic Districts are another layer of bureaucracy. Property owners are told the Architectural Review Board or the Historic District Commission procedures, guidelines and ordinances are “fair, expeditious and predictable.” The facts do not support such statements.

In December, 2000, the Owossa, Michigan, City Council passed the “Oliver Street Historic District” ordinance. Local residents were outraged when they learned how they had been hoodwinked by the council and by supporters of the plan with clever propaganda and underhanded tactics to give the appearance of broad public support. Former Councilman Burton Fox stated, “Why should it be up to a committee to determine what changes we may or may not make to our homes? We own the property, pay the taxes on it, and incur the expense of keeping it up.”

On August 14, 2001, the residents voted to repeal the ordinance by a margin of 70—30 percent, sending a powerful message to the historic preservationists. Mark Owen, who led the repeal effort, was elected to the City Council in November, 2001. Owossa residents were fed up with dictatorial, command and control regulation.

2. It's Historic? Who Says?

There are few people who would argue with the idea that some “things” are historic and worth preserving. The problem with current “preservationist” philosophy is most of the people promoting “historic preservation”, the self—anointed cultural elite, have abandoned the ideals of American civilization and the enduring truths of independence, self—reliance and the sanctity of private property rights. They are unable to distinguish between nauseatingly shallow historical fiction and real history. Truth, art, beauty and traditional values have been undermined by relativism, and the “preservationists” are incapable of separating the wheat from the chaff.

Deciding what should be preserved is subjective. Each individual has his own ideals, which is all the more reason to keep decisions about historic preservation out of the realm of politics and out of the hands of inept government Boards and Commissions.

As the “sociological culture” of “historic preservation” has been combined with the subjective interpretations of brainless bureaucrats, we are often “blessed” by idiocy : the National Trust for Historic Preservation naming the last remaining original McDonald's to its annual list of “America's most endangered historic places.”

“Yes, the historical appetite among Americans is unprecedented and large. Of course it is served, and will continue to be served by plenty of junk food. Of that professional historians may be aware. Of the existence of the appetite for history they are not.” —John Lucas, The American Scholar, Winter 1998

3. Property Values Will Increase!

Well, for once the “historic preservationists” are telling the truth, or at least part of the truth. In many cases property values will increase due to a Historic District, and so will tax assessments—and not just in the Historic District. Every taxpayer in the city or county is affected by higher property assessments, and every bureaucrat dances with turf—expansion glee as opportunities to meddle in private affairs increase in proportion to the “take” from the taxpayer. All those “historic edifices” will need to be catalogued, documented and studied. “Experts” will be needed to interpret, define and preserve the items in their little museum of “cultural landscapes” and “intangible heritage” —using their little bottles of “preservationist formaldehyde”.

4. The “Little Man” Is Squeezed Out!

Like a cancer, Historic Districts tend to grow, infecting surrounding areas. The “Voluntary Guidelines” turn into costly regulations which, when combined with higher taxes, stupidity, arbitrary regulatory edicts, racial discrimination, corruption, and political favoritism for those who are “in” with the local “establishment clique”, drive the average property owner out. Eventually, only the cultural elite can afford property in a Historic District. The “Historic District Police”, in cahoots with the fruitcake bureaucrats and elitist residents snoop and tattle on the evil deeds of their “neighbors”.

In Galena, Illinois, “historic preservation” rules prevented Jim Holman from building a retaining wall with $200 worth of railroad ties. Only a $3600 stone wall would suffice!

In Arlington County, Virginia, black people living in the Historic Maywood area were required to submit formal applications and ten copies of forms to get permission to install air conditioning in their homes.

In Pacific Grove, California, resident Stephen Page “endured 20 public hearings regarding the size, shape, height, siting, texture, materials, and color of our proposed residence.” During one meeting with the Architectural Review Board, a Commissioner objected to the plans for Mr. Page's house because “in my former life as a seagull, I was flying up and down the California coastline and saw your house built shaped as a seashell, built out of driftwood and feathers, with the aperture facing out to the sea.” It took two years of hearings, a lawsuit against the city, and tens of thousands of dollars in costs and expenses before Page was “allowed” to build a home on his land.

5. Free Money, Tax Rebates—Oink Oink!

Now, let's all line up at the trough. Never mind the fact that most federal programs which subsidize “historic preservation” are unconstitutional. Forget self—respect. To Hell with the poor “slob” working on the assembly line, the small farmer, and the millions of working people and small business owners who pay the taxes so the “historic preservation elites” are able to benefit from someone else's sweat and labor.

Amazing, isn't it, how, during the past 200 plus years, “culturally primitive” Americans were able to build and maintain so many thousands of “historic” homes and structures without sucking at the teat of the taxpayer.

Preservationists have no problem lining their pockets with someone else's money, especially when it's extorted from the taxpayer for the purpose of protecting just about everything “for future generations”.

6. Historic Districts Are Legal — Right?

Legal, yes—but are they lawful? There is a difference. Americans, who want to truly preserve their freedoms, culture, heritage, and their history, need to learn the difference in meaning between “legal” and “lawful”. Private property rights, the right of due process, and the protection against involuntary servitude (all violated by most Historic District Ordinances) are examples of lawful rights protected by our Constitution.

Statutory enactments are legalities. Legislatures enact thousands of statutes each year, such as the enabling legislation permitting localities to pass Historic District Ordinances. Most of us refer to statutes as “laws”, but to the extent statutory enactments undermine or are contrary to Constitutionally protected rights, they are not law, and should be defiantly resisted and defeated.

"The general rule is that an unconstitutional statute, though having the form and name of law, is in reality no law, but is wholly void, and ineffective for any purpose; since unconstitutionality dates from the time of it's enactment, and not merely from the date of the decision so branding it... No one is bound to obey an unconstitutional law, and no courts are bound to enforce it.: — 16 Am Jur 2d, 177, late 2d, 256

Police in Little Rock, Arkansas, arrested 70 year old Betty Deislinger at a meeting of the city's Historic Commission. Her “crime” was a refusal to remove illegal burglar security bars from her 1870's house, in violation of the Historic District Ordinance. She was threatened with fines of up to $500/day until she complied with the ordinance. What would you have done about such an unlawful action by your city or town council?

Promoting freedom of choice and private voluntary action —not command and control regulation and extortion of tax dollars— is the best way to encourage people to restore and protect historic resources, to instill pride and to revitalize our communities.

“People differ greatly in their perceptions and concepts of beauty, and this makes it most unfair and perilous to progress to allow any one person or group to impose aesthetic controls…Controls on the appearance of property allow intolerance to masquerade as high—mindedness, stifling innovation and creativity.”—Bernard H. Siegan, Distinguished Professor of Law, University of Chicago