Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Historic Zoning

If you never work on your house, then you probably don't think much about zoning. To make up for that, people like my neighbors think about zoning A LOT.

Here's a map of the area where I live:
As you might guess, R-zoning is residential. R-1A is for single-family homes and duplexes (maybe some other house-like apartment buildings). O is for offices, C is commercial, and I is industrial. The number designates the "density."

The important part here are the diagonal lines -- any area that is shaded in with diagonal lines also carries the overlay zoning of H-1, which is historic zoning. My house is in one of those medium-yellow islands of R-1A without H-1, so I do not need to get permission from the Historic Zoning Board before making exterior changes. This is good because it's one less hoop for me to jump through. I would say that it's also bad because some of the stupid things that previous owners did were clearly inconsistent with the guidelines; however, since their work isn't anywhere near being up to code, I would guess that they didn't even have a building permit, so bureacracy probably wouldn't have come to the rescue.

Here is the great part: if you're in the historic zoning, then you need approval for every exterior change (down to small details -- like the color of the mortar when you have brickwork repointed). However, the city law director recently informed the city council that, in his opinion, you can un-zone your property out of H-1 JUST BY ASKING. That's right: anyone who doesn't want to comply with the historic guidelines can just ask the city council to remove the property from the H-1 overlay, and the rules will no longer apply!

My neighbors have whipped themselves into a frenzy: Call the city council! Hold a meeting! Call the zoning board! Email the entire neighborhood! This MUST BE STOPPED!

I am waiting to see a schism: wealthy gentrifiers versus absentee landlords and everyone else with a lack of patience about the historic rules. I will watch this from the sidelines -- unless someone tries to take away my right to install storm windows.