Guest Column: Establishing historic district guidelines

  • Thursday, April 26, 2012

Re: “City hoping guidelines overhaul helps preserve Historic District”, published April 20, 2012

My husband and I own two homes in the historic district of Georgetown. His parents and grandparents owned homes within the district. My parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great grandparents were also homeowners within its current borders. I consider myself to be a stakeholder in the area.

I appreciate the historic fabric but I also know that it is the people, not the buildings, which ultimately determine whether a given location will thrive as a livable area or succumb to the ravages of time and/or neglect.

The recent discussions and decisions regarding the repair or revitalization of several structures within our Historic District prompted me to consider exactly what position I might take in each instance.

In some cases, I spoke with the property owners involved and to some of those serving on the Architectural Review Board at the time the rulings were given. Other times, I have read the published reports of the monthly and on-site meetings of the ARB. Frequently, the situations have simply been discussions with friends, acquaintances, and inquisitive tourists. More often than not, I have concluded that valid points were made on both sides of each case. That is not to say that they ended up with even weightings.

While I love the character of our community (save the sheer number of properties for sale within it), it is also obvious that some of the more notable and revered buildings in our city are not as they were originally built. The Georgetown County Historical Museum retains “the bones” of its former lives but has undergone much change over the years – even after my childhood. The exterior stucco and additions to the Stewart-Parker house have resulted in a building which appears quite different from its original Georgian design. The Kaminski House Museum evolved from a clapboard single house of three stories into the much larger and more lavish structure with the restoration, changes and additions made by the Kaminskis in the 1940s. Brick has been covered with stucco. Wood has been covered with brick. Times have changed. The shadow lines have been altered. Extant structures have been removed. Modern conveniences have been added. Time and experience continue to dictate perceived needs and wants in all areas of life.

The financial considerations of the owners may also have changed. An older home once in need of substantial funding for repair and upgrading may have been ceded to those with the desire and means to do an outstanding renovation or restoration. The current owners of another dwelling may have already reached or exceeded their financial limit for their time as stewards of the house. There are too many variables to begin to enumerate.

Keeping a home in perfect repair is an ideal. Repairing the “old” with currently available mass produced materials or acquiring special made replacements by master craftsmen is an exercise leading, most often, to frustration or futility and always accompanied by exorbitant costs. The lumber on the older portion of our home has lasted several hundred years. That on the newer portion (15 years old), though it was the best grade available, has already required the replacement of several boards. Add scraping, painting, roofing, window pane replacement. Throw in the landscaping to make the environment appealing. Consider the current basement level value of each and every home.

People who invest in homes are committed to their labor of love but they should not have their property rights so severely restricted as to create a burden – either present or future.

I urge the City of Georgetown; Ms. Foley, the newly hired consultant; and the Architectural Review Board to carefully consider each and every aspect of the guidelines as they currently exist and as might be proposed to ensure that restrictions do not further devalue property from the perspective of current owners or potential purchasers.

Ms. Foley is quoted as saying that “once you lose your buildings you have lost your history.” I caution that once a significant number of homes in an area are unoccupied, you have lost that community which shares in and appreciates its history. Further, to quote from Mr. Harper’s article, “…there will be rules about things that need to take place every six months and other time intervals to help preserve the historic buildings.” I trust that clarification will disprove my creeping anxiety that the City of Georgetown intends to dictate to the home and business owners who have lovingly cared for their properties to the best of their abilities the upkeep of their structures.

Additionally, my Bachelor’s degree was in psychology. Should they desire my expertise in that area, I would be happy to consult with City officials and administrators regarding the psychological impact which accompanies the perception that individual rights are being taken from the citizenry and assigned to an appointed board.

Margaret T. “Connie” Bull

Mrs. Bull is a lifetime resident of the City of Georgetown within the Historic District, former chair of the Architectural Review Board, former president of the Georgetown County Historical Society, and former board member of the Historic District Homeowners’ Association.

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