My neighborhood in east Dallas (Junius Heights) is in the middle of a push to be designated by the city as a historic district. Basically what this means is that you won’t be able to make any modifications to the exteriors of the houses that aren’t consistent with the original appearance of the house (most of the houses were built between 1915 and 1925) — paint, windows, siding, fences, landscaping, etc. All modifications to these sorts of things would have to be approved by a city panel before you could do them and doing them without approval would result in a fine. There are half a dozen similar historic districts around the city including two that border our proposed district. Experience with these districts has shown that they have been successful at revitalizing neighborhoods where they were put in. The two districts adjacent to our were in even worse shape than our neighborhood when they were designated and now they’re two of the nicest neighborhoods in Dallas.
This process has been going on for about a year now. There were at least two neighborhood association meetings about it last summer and fall and the city has sent out at least two mailings since then to all the property owners in the proposed district. A petition to ask for the designation has been circulated and has gotten the approval of 58% of the properties at last count. I say 58% of the properties because if you own 5 houses (for example) then you get 5 votes.
I was a bit surprised at how non-controversial this proposal was at the neighborhood meetings last year. The opposition at the time, such as it was, seemed to come from a few landlords whose opinions were discounted relative to those of historic district supporters because they didn’t live in the neighborhood. The petition was circulated as I mentioned, and the first level of approval for the district was received in January. Now the proposed rules and regulations about construction and repair are in force pending the final approval.
The next step is another hearing at city hall in a couple of weeks. It is the key vote from the city planning commission, the board that sets the zoning regulations. The district won’t be definitely official until the city council approves it, but normally the council goes along with whatever the planning commission decides.
With the planning commission hearing and vote coming up, the opposition to the historic district is finally showing up and making a last ditch effort to head things off. Twice in the last two days we have gotten fliers on our door urging us to help stop the historic district effort. One of the fliers was a photocopy of a hand written appeal along the lines of “don’t let the city tell us what we can do with our property”. The second is basically the same appeal, but is a bit more professionally done. It is stamped with a big red “IMPORTANT” and an American flag. It includes the choice quote “They have almost gotten this passed without informing the citizens of its full impact on each and every property” despite the fact that at least two mailings from the city to each property owner included the proposed rules for the district in addition to the proposed rules being handed out at each of the meetings.
After writing all this I finally get to the punch line. This second flier ends with the appeal “Help stop communism, socialism, or just city bureaucracy meddling in your property rights”. I just read that and thought “Dude, stopping communism is so ’70s.” If they really wanted to stop this the way to do it would have been to go door-to-door with a counter-petition about 6 months ago. I doubt they’re going to have any significant impact with this approach at this late date.