Preserving the relics of the past and gaining knowledge from studying historical dwellings can be good and useful. But valuing those lifeless objects over human need is cruel and inhumane and can sometimes be a mask for racism, ageism and classism.
We recently heard about a proposal in the Kennett Square Borough Council to expand the historic district and make the regulations of the homeowners even stricter than they have been. The rationale for the proposal by Council President Dan Maffei was to make the borough a vibrant hub of southern Chester County that will attract visitors who are interested in not only the stores and restaurants, but the interesting and accurately preserved architecture.
Mr. Maffei, however, is not alone as a municipal official who advocates for stringent restoration regulations. We have seen efforts to save the Red Rose Inn, and the old barn in Franklin, to name just a few other examples.
The desire to preserve the appearance and class of years gone by is one thing. It is quite another to inflict high taxes and expensive repair requirements on the people who own or live near the properties.
Take, for example, the people who as younger members of the community bought modest homes in the middle of town. They were at the height of their earning years, and they paid for their houses. As the years passed, they aged and now live on Social Security and modest pensions. If they are required to maintain their dwellings with expensive, true-to-history parts, they have no choice but forego the repairs or move away and sell their homes to moneyed new owners who can afford the classy restorations.
And consider the families who save their money and are climbing their way out of depressed neighborhoods in urban centers. A reasonably priced, modest home in a small town within a good school district might be a nice step up, but only the well-heeled can afford these historically restricted dwellings -- not to mention in the nearby suburbs.
Need a new screen door? Donít even think about purchasing one at Lowes. Fix the roof? Buy expensive slate.
This is a ďlet Ďem eat cakeĒ attitude by preservationists. Not only that, but it chases away potential employees and service providers who could live economically and close to the local stores and restaurants, but they canít afford repairs, maintenance and initial cost.
Another flaw in the preservationist thinking is the theory that tourists and customers will come to a town that has genuine, old fashioned doors, windows and roofs. An example of that is the potential roadblocks the Kennett Senior Center Book Shoppe faced when they had to beg for permission to install energy efficient, modern windows in a building they were renovating on South Union Street. For them to buy historical wood would have been prohibitively expensive and wasteful of heating and air conditioning.
The truth is, people come to town for fun, interesting stores, great events and good restaurants with convenient parking. They donít care what materials the roofs were made from or if the windows are framed in wood or plastic. Ask the hundreds of thousands who have attended the mushroom festival, or, more recently, the mushroom drop.
Ask the people who stop by the Twelves in West Grove or cheer on the Halloween Parade in Oxford.
They want to park their cars, walk on safe sidewalks and get good service. If the main street happens to reflect the architecture of the past, itís a bonus.
When historic commissions and architectural review boards do exist, then let these be their functions:
To review major exterior renovation plans and make sure they donít look bad.
To be a reference for homeowners who have questions about the historical significance of their houses, and
To suggest (not require) resources that can keep the home in the style of the townís past.
But donít be deluded into thinking that draconian architectural regulations will do anything to raise the level of the town.