Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Yale Homeowner Reacts to Neighborhood Outcry

Posted By on April 22, 2009, 1:41 PM

Tom Hulbert—the Yale Avenue homeowner whose plans to demolish an 85-year-old home and rebuild have enflamed neighbors—asks what others would do in his situation.

When he bought the small cottage two years ago, Hulbert says it wasn’t his intention to tear it down and build a big new home. He did want to expand and modernize however, but found a lot more than he bargained for when he brought in builders.

Hulbert says shoring up a sinking foundation on the brick home—a process that would require dismantling brick by brick—would cost $200,000. And that’s before revamping the home’s plumbing and heating systems and before any expansion.

“Everything eventually lives out its useful life,” says Hulbert. “I, frankly, am sad that I am financially forced to do this. …. Why would you ever move to an area, get to know the neighbors, then tear down a home unless you really had no option?”

Hulbert’s pending building permit calls for a new 7,200-square-foot home. But he says much of that square footage would be in a basement and that the 4,800 square feet above ground won’t be the tallest home in the neighborhood.

In late 2007, Hulbert (with the support several of his immediate neighbors) asked the Salt Lake City’s board of adjustment for permission to build an addition on the Yale Home. Special permission was needed because designs would bring the home within one foot of the property line and thus conflict with neighborhood zoning that imposes minimum setbacks. Hulbert’s application was denied, though he says the proposed expansion would have matched the setback of the existing home.

Ironically, Hulbert says he supports a push by some neighbors to increase protections for older structures in Yalecrest. Creation of a conservation district (one option being pursued by some neighbors) could bring new review of proposals to tear down older homes and increased scrutiny of remodeling plans.

Had such regulations been in place when he purchased, Hulbert says he would at least have known what he was getting into. Precise guidelines for when older homes may be torn down, “would eliminate this very un-neighborly and venomous vilification of the homeowner,” he says.

Hulbert notes he purchased his Yale Avenue home after the neighborhood had worked with the city to develop a special infill ordinance for Yalecrest. That ordinance now guides setbacks and building heights in the neighborhood, and Hulbert’s proposed new home would meet those regulations. “My neighbors had chance in 2005 to put in whatever [zoning] they wanted,” he says. “You can’t just come in after the fact and say, ‘I thought this couldn’t happen.’”

Hulbert says it isn’t realistic to expect purchasers of older homes not to build modern expansions. “Williamsburg is a good example,” he says referring to the Virginia colonial town preserved as a tourist stop. “I don’t know that real people live there.”

If the city is serious about historic preservation, Hulbert says it is going to have to come up with financial help for owners of older homes. (Hulbert says he looked into potential state tax credits available for historic renovation, but his designs were not approved. Low interest loans available from the Utah Heritage Foundation weren’t big enough to cover the major reconstruction required.) “People need to put money where their mouths are,” he says. “If they want preserve historic homes, it’s going to cost big money.”

A draft historic preservation plan that will be debated in coming months by the Salt Lake City Council makes similar calls. The plan doesn’t go into details, but recommends Salt Lake City come up with carrots, as well as sticks, to encourage preservation. The draft plan recommends Salt Lake City develop a system to transfer development rights. Developers who agree to preserve a historic property would be given rights to build elsewhere at higher densities than otherwise allowed. The plan additionally says the city may want to create a system to help homeowners track down and qualify for grants, tax credits and other financial help.

The entire draft preservation plan can be read here.

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Ted McDonough

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