The Dallas Landmark Commission today began a 6 month process of looking for ways to improve the designation process by taking public comments before their regularly scheduled meeting. I saw this as an opportunity to help shape the direction of preservation in Dallas for the near future. Below are the ideas that I presented in person to the Landmark Commission this afternoon.
Thank you Mdme Chair, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Commission.
I would like to preface my comments with an observation. As a preservation architect, I have had very many opportunities to interact with the regulatory side of preservation on the national, state and especially the local level. That experience has led me to the conclusion that the Dallas program is the fairest and most professional in Texas. Today is not the venue to elaborate on those observations, but should be taken as context. I do not consider our program broken in any way, but instead appreciate this opportunity to help the program evolve to meet the needs of an evolving city.
This can be in important step in truly developing a culture of preservation in Dallas. Across much of our city, in both the private and the public sectors, we find ourselves addressing the question of "why would we preserve". Instead, we should seek an environment that begins by asking "why wouldn't we" preserve? Our current program, crafted through the 1970's and 80's, carries a considerable burden to prove out why a building or site should be deemed eligible for Landmark status. I propose that any structure identified for designation that is known to meet a minimum age threshold and perhaps one other readily documented qualification such as architecture or association with a notable person or event, be assumed eligible, and that the burden of documentation be shifted to those who might argue that it is not. The National Register-level documentation that we currently require is an excellent resource, but the effort required to prepare them is considerable and requires research skills that may not be readily available, greatly discouraging applicants and placinig a work load on staff and volunteers that has always been difficult to manage.
Corollary to this, I propose that any building that is already listed on the National Register individually, listed as a contributing structure in a National Register district, or determined likely to be eligible by the SHPO's office be deemed eligible as a Dallas Landmark upon submission of photos or other documentation that confirms substantial historic integrity remains from the time it was so determined.
So much for the easy part.
While it will take time and a lot of input, I believe we need a broader definition of what constitutes historic. I would refer you to recent activities in North Oak Cliff and Deep Ellum, where there is clearly a community character that is widely understood and even cherished. It's a character that is rooted in and reflective of the community history, but not primarily its architectural history. It does not meet the traditional architectural standards for what might be considered an historic district yet is widely considered worthy of some form of preservation. We need a way to help identify and preserve these complex relationships so essential to a vibrant city. The Dallas AIA will, in the next few days, announce the adoption of a policy statement on historic preservation. I was honored to be part of the team that developed this policy and can tell you that it also recognizes and begins to address this need. I look forward to the chance for multiple groups who recognize this need to work together to develop tools to help these communities.
Finally, I do feel it's important to bring up an issue that was revealed to me during the Lakewood Theater's designation effort. The problem lies in the penalty for violations. As currently written, the $2,000/day/violation runs from the beginning of the violation, not from it's discovery or citation. It is possible for a building owner to rack up many millions of dollars in penalties for a violation that was unnoticed and has existed, previously undiscovered for many years. This is not conjecture but has actually happened in other places. The response we have received when noting this has been "We've never done that" or "We wouldn't do that". I doubt any of us would be satisfied with that answer and we shouldn't expect designation applicants to be satisfied either, making this a disincentive to designation for property owners. I would ask that we simply add the language that the penalty starts following a citation and a 30 day cure period.