On Paint and Historic Preservation

The heat is increasing in the dispute between the City of Annapolis Historic Preservation Commission and property owners/artists in the”Arts District” (inner West Street). Good background can be found in articles in The Capital here, here and here. I am certainly not against historic preservation and it has been good for the city, but when it gets to the point of micromanaging (witness the past tussle over fiberglass columns), the balance has shifted too far. The city would be far better served with efforts like a form based code that dictates the general form – which we all love so much and which will last for a long time – instead of the minutia like paint color/design which can be very ephemeral. The City needs to concentrate on more important things. I think my paraphrase of Justice Potter Stewart’s infamous comment about pornography is à propos.

Time Lapse – Tsunami Mural Annapolis, MD from Power Play Creations on Vimeo.

Dear Mr. Mayor, Members of the City Council and Interested Parties-

I have been following with great interest the debate between property owners and the Historic Preservation Commission concerning whether paint color/design is within the purview of the Commission to regulate. While I understand and appreciate the hard work the Commission has done over the years to keep the town’s historic nature intact, I find the recent issue and potential litigation over the Tsunami mural distasteful at best and a waste of the city’s resources at worst.

Clearly the rules as written are ambiguous and in the words of Justice Potter Stewart in Jacobellis v. Ohio, paraphrased to whether murals of this sort are “architectural alteration”:

“…I know it when I see it, and the mural involved in this case is not that.”

With all of the problems the City has, especially vis-a-vis the budget, this seems to be a complete waste of time and money. Not only that, additional hurdles to utilization and revitalization of the numerous empty properties downtown are the last thing the city needs. Let’s concentrate on problems that really matter.

3 thoughts on “On Paint and Historic Preservation

  1. A little late in the game on this, Alex, but I can’t help but imagine that a city like Annapolis would be particularly strangled by this level of micromanagement. In cities with a less thoroughly entrenched preservation culture–or, at least, far less evidence that it exists–these haggles seem like the last resort to an overriding obstructionist attitude toward new development or redevelopment. In short, these things happen when the CAVE community is running out of cards to play. Your article is old by now–I hope that sanity prevailed in this case. The optimal resolution is usually squarely in the middle between the two extremes.

    1. Thanks for your comment Eric. Sadly this has not resolved and is still in court after the city delayed the initial hearing. Annapolis is a funny place. We have a very wide variety of opinions on the cause of our downtown issues from too much regulation to not enough government action. While we do have an active CAVE community here, I don’t see historic preservation being using to further that agenda. I just think we have a very dedicated – perhaps overzealous – set of folks who are passionate about the ideals of historic preservation and see the the world through that one dimensional lens. I agree with your final statement that the middle ground is the optimal resolution.

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