Rochelle Durgin, Fargo, Published May 10 2012
Historic overlay is vitalRecently, I’ve become involved to support a Historic Overlay for Fargo’s Hawthorne neighborhood. What I discovered is a troubling picture – the impact growth and new development has on older neighborhoods and how little control we have over it.
The city has done a great job with revitalizing downtown with the help of Renaissance Zone funding. But funding stops short of residential neighborhoods. The incentives that are available for fixing up an older home are weak and not actively promoted.
In older neighborhoods, majestic trees were razed, streets were widened and commercial interests started creeping in. In the name of growth and for the benefit of traffic flow, historic neighborhoods changed forever.
It’s not a stretch to suggest that homes in my neighborhood along 10th Street South or University might today share the same status as those on Eighth Street had one-ways not been established where they are. Granted, many of the decisions negatively affecting older neighborhoods were made long ago, such as allowing demolition of beautiful homes to be replaced by box apartments, void of character. Today, the city is making similar decisions but to a different degree. Victorian homes are converted to commercial businesses with little regard to architectural character or effects on the neighborhood.
Although I see progress being made in the thoughtfully designed condos replacing Shotwells, I have concern about future development. Some people argue that many rundown houses along busy streets bordering my neighborhood should be replaced. As one past commissioner stated, “… perhaps a well-landscaped parking lot is better than a dilapidated house” (August 2007 Planning Commission meeting minutes). I wonder if the commissioner thought about why the house was dilapidated. Could it have anything to do with its location, widening streets, removing trees and increasing traffic flow?
Regardless of how well growth is physically planned, if it encourages destruction of existing assets, does it make sense? As a general rule, rehabilitation costs less than new construction and uses less energy and materials.
I am not against development in our neighborhood if it makes sense. The problem is that development is usually driven by profit. When profit is the motivation, design takes a back seat, along with consideration of how a building fits the neighborhood or affects surrounding homes.
I know the city has a tough job, and they can’t make everyone happy. There are no easy answers, and most of the difficulties are due to decisions made in the past.
Those against the Historic Overlay want less government control, but there will always be some form of government control over our neighborhood. The question is: Would you rather have developers and a small panel of commissioners distracted by other issues controlling the neighborhood? Or the Historic Preservation Commission, whose sole mission is to preserve and protect historic properties?
Durgin lives in Fargo. Erskine’s Addition Historic Overlay started several years ago as a grass-roots effort by Hawthorne neighbors to protect the character and integrity of the neighborhood.