Friday, August 26, 2011

A Letter from the Advisory Council

The Lens unearths a letter sent from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) to the City of New Orleans regarding the treatment of the moved VA houses.

As someone who's been both a long-time supporter of the house moving alternative - a majority of the moved houses are secured and re-roofed - and someone's who's concerned about the failure to get the remainder back into some semblance of order...I can say that I have seen the letter and thought about it a bit.

A key problem with the letter is this: the Programmatic Agreement (PA) that the ACHP cites as it chastises the City...doesn't actually address the house moving that the Landrieu administration ultimately pushed for in response to the calls made citizens and preservationists.  That's not meant as an excuse, just a hard look at the text.

The PA only contained stipulations that addressed a much more modest house moving effort that the VA agreed to fund at the outset of the hospital project - and only 3 houses ultimately moved under that program (with owners, with roofs intact).  The 72 additional houses moved as part of the effort that materialized in summer of 2010 (covered extensively on this blog - without owners, without roofs) are not envisioned in the PA.  Thus, for better or for worse, the PA proper, as governing document for effects on historic resources, arguably has nothing to say about the vast bulk of the houses that moved off the site - the City effort that came after demolition had started was and is entirely "extra-PA."

A somewhat better hook - and the one that the ACHP probably should have used in its letter - is a provision in a letter from the State Historic Preservation Office that's constitutes part of an appendix to the PA (below in blue).  In the letter, the SHPO makes it clear that the "Area of Potential Effects" for the project would have to be expanded if any houses moved off site.  In other words, it's likely that more process would have been required to address the potential effects of the moved houses on the historic neighborhoods where many of them landed (and possibly the effects of roof removal, etc. on the moved houses themselves):

To my knowledge, the SHPO understanding  in 3(c) has never been been realized despite the moving of many houses into different locations, as I've mapped here.  I know of no extension or change to the "APE" that would serve to acknowledge that more historic buildings and neighborhoods were being affected by the project.

Finally, the piece in The Lens notes the handful of houses that moved into Historic Treme.  Of all the houses that moved off site, these really are the most incongruent with their new surroundings in terms of historic and architectural context (parts of Hoffman Triangle come close, but the existing neighborhood was not as deeply historic as Treme).  That's why I was fine with the article employing the photo from this blog.

In the end, I remain hopeful that the house moving effort will succeed.  Many of the properties continue to creep forward toward better condition, and I still say that even if only 2/3 of them ultimately come back in commerce with historic character intact, it will be better than the alternative faced in June of 2010 - mass demolition of all 72 houses along with the scores of other structures that were in fact demolished.

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