Historic preservation or hysteric?

Clifton resident Mark Frazar has been fined $100 for violating city historic preservation rules by installing solar panels on his roof over a year ago. He has appealed the fine and is scheduled to go before an architectural review board next Wednesday, April 13, to see if the panels need to be removed, according to a story in The Courier-Journal

I don’t believe I have ever met Mr. Frazar, but if the review board orders him to remove his solar panels, I will partner with him on a Kickstarter campaign to fund his fight to help him keep his panels.

Louisville has seven historic preservation districts, designed to preserve this city’s cultural history. This means that any alterations to the appearance of a house in one of those neighborhoods must be “compatible with the historic, visual and aesthetic character of such historic district.”

I’m sure this is what the Founding Fathers had in mind when drafting the Declaration of Independence: All men are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Unless of course that happiness is viewable from the street.

As Mr. Frazar rightfully argued, satellite dishes, antennas and air conditioning units can be seen throughout his historic neighborhood. He further pointed to the presence of telephone poles, wires, transformers and energy meters that were not around when the neighborhood was built.

I completely understand if a developer wants to build a neighborhood with a particular ambiance, and that neighbors need to be respectful of one another, both in actions and appearances. That said, there are certain, inalienable rights that supersede aesthetics. Historic and cultural preservation are good and important, and this situation is not the fault of the commission, which is following rules established by the Metro Council’s ordinance. I also recognize that this may just be the way things get done in Louisville. This is the process at work: Mr. Frazar appeals; reasonable minds prevail; solar panels stay; precedent is set; and everyone moves on in the Possibility City. (Although I can’t imagine why progressive cities would create the pitfalls for progress like we do.)

That said, this is just one frog reaching its boiling point. There are countless untold stories and hardships that have been endured, often by people who don’t have the means or interest to fight or fix the problems that result from intended and unintended consequences of this city’s over-regulation of private property. Take Old Louisville, another historic preservation neighborhood. And for good reason too, as it is America’s largest preservation district featuring almost all Victorian architecture, and it is a popular tourist attraction. However, when it comes to home repair, restoration and renovation, the preservation rules unreasonably burden property owners.

A friend who owns a home in Old Louisville told me that her gutters needed to be replaced and, to satisfy the preservationist rules, they had to reflect the original box gutters on the house. Because of the material and labor that she would have to use, it would cost her as much as $100 per foot to replace the gutters, totaling somewhere between $25,000 and $30,000. Not only is that an unreasonable expense to preserve a minor aesthetic feature (one that could probably be painted to irrelevancy), but that expense would not be an investment realized in the value of the home. She also explained that replacing the windows, even those facing her backyard and not visible from any public vantage point, would cost three times what new windows otherwise would because of these restrictions.

By installing solar panels, Mr. Frazar is investing in his property, improving its value, realizing energy savings that will pay for the entire investment in 11 years and taking steps to help reduce this community’s dependence on coal, which will improve the health and lives of everyone.

I can’t help but laugh at the sick irony that when humans exterminate themselves from the Earth because of catastrophic climate change, and in thousands of years when the world repopulates, the planet of the apes will visit the beautiful Clifton neighborhood ruins, just as we travel to see the Pyramids.

Louisville needs to hit the reset button on its preservationist rules, regulations and perspective. It is one thing to protect an iconic landmark, but things have gotten to the point where we seem to be valuing historic facade over real progress, and the perception of history, rather than paving a new history.