Letters to the Editor

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By The Staff

Time to abolish the La Grange Historic District

To the editor:

The confusion about the new parks department sign in front of city hall honoring the late James Beaumont has brought into sharp focus the question of whether to dissolve or radically change the mission and authority of the La Grange Historic District.  

When creating a historic district was first proposed in 1989 many residents thought it would lead to a renaissance in central La Grange. With 20 years of experience, we now know the experiment has failed, while creating a great deal of anger, frustration and confusion.  

…  Few envisioned the degree of restrictions, cumbersome rules, and heavy-handed approach of some commissioners that would follow when the city adopted the ordinance. People who have paid taxes on their property for decades are suddenly told they need a “Certificate of Appropriateness” to improve their property. 

Visit the City of La Grange Web site and read the guidelines for new and/or renovated property in the historical district. There are restrictions regarding work to awnings, cornices, decks, doors, fencing, gutters, brickwork, porches, driveways, sidewalks, retaining walls, roofs, siding, signs, skylights, and windows. 

Want to fly a flag on July 4? The ordinance requires that homeowners ask the historic district commission for permission to put a flag bracket on his house. Seems very un-American to me.  

In addition, new building or renovation work to existing structures requires the added expense and inconvenience of providing the historic commission with scaled drawings of proposed alterations, a scaled site plan showing how the addition or alteration relates to the site, photos of buildings and adjoining properties up and down the street, a list and samples of exterior materials, pictures and vendor pamphlets of designs and styles of materials, windows and doors. 

The enforcement authority of the Historical District Commission needs to cease. Commissioners can’t force a property owner to fix up their home or business – the commission can only stop someone from attempting to improve their property as they choose. Homeowners who want vinyl siding on their homes (or an attached garage) are told “No” – these innovations aren’t historical and aren’t approved. It doesn’t matter that the neighbor directly across the street or on the next block may already have it on his better-looking home – apparently installed before the ordinance went into effect. 

The houses in the so-called historic district don’t constitute a set of extremely unique buildings. Granted, they are our homes and most of us would like our property to be as comfortable and nice as we can afford. But, as for being unique treasures, they are not. In every direction for 500 miles, there are hundreds of communities and thousands of similar houses.    

The city’s historic district ordinance and its application by the historic district commission is actually undermining property values in La Grange. Individuals who would like to improve their property instead are walking away in disgust. Some homeowners do what they want and hope no one will notice. Others feel forced to let their property erode because they can’t afford to meet the guidelines or know they’ll end up putting more money into their property than they’ll ever get out of it. 

Not everyone can afford to repeatedly spend $3,000-$7,000 to paint a house that won’t hold paint. New forms of siding, insulated windows and other innovations have come about for a reason. 

Doing away with the historic district doesn’t mean the end of historic preservation in La Grange. In fact, a voluntary effort may be much more effective. Anyone could still fix up their property as they see fit and the City of La Grange could still buy and renovate the most historic properties, with everyone sharing the cost, not just a few. 

I plan to speak Monday at the La Grange City Council meeting to ask for an end to the historical district ordinance. The council meets at 6:30 p.m. in the Fiscal Court Room. 

David Voegele, La Grange


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