Letter to the Editor

Letter to the editor: Defending the historic district

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

What one disgruntled individual has shown in his attempt to abolish the Historic District Commission in Eureka Springs is a grave misunderstanding of how it actually “works” and what its parameters actually are. 

As has been explained many times over already, the National Register for Historic Places is strictly honorary and carries little weight. There are more than 80,000 listings and these are managed by the National Parks Service, focusing on structures more than 50 years old. Neither of these designations affect what an owner may do with his private property. Any perceived problem comes at the state level that decides whether a designated historic district is eligible for federal tax credits, incentives or outright grants. An HDC within a community offers protection to historic buildings in that they review regulations per ordinances established both by the Department of the Interior and specific to the local community. In most local historic districts, permission is needed before making any exterior alteration to a structure or before demolishing it. Any change must be consistent to the original character of a building or neighborhood. This precludes most modern features, such as vinyl windows or siding and, in some instances, solar panels. An HDC makes it unlikely a developer will come in and demolish a neighbor’s house and replace it with a several-story apartment building, a parking garage or any other retail establishment. A historic district offers neighborhood stability, encourages heritage tourism and, among many other features, provides an accurate record for generations to come. It should be noted that approximately 98 percent of all work applications presented are approved by the HDC or the city preservation officer. Without an HDC, there is no oversight and a city loses not only its charm and authenticity but becomes ineligible for grants and important tax credits. 

Anyone who doesn’t agree or wish to comply with any restrictive guidelines should not buy within a designated Historic District. It is his responsibility to educate himself to know what living there entails. I happen to love my single-pane,19th-century wavy glass windows and transom doors. I don’t mind they leak cold air and sometimes don’t close. Others would. Don’t buy there. I like dry stack stone walls. Others don’t. Don’t buy there.  A historic district has some of the same caveats that any strict land use regulations or any gated development has. Some of these “developments” even disallow the type of plants one may grow in front yards. Some won’t allow a child’s swing set. “The Villages” in Florida come to mind.

Before buying in a heritage city or a designated historic district, do your research. Know whether you value all aspects of living in such a place. If not, there’s always Holiday Island or Bentonville. 

— Marty Cogan