Whose House Is It, Anyway? – Part II

In this morning’s Denver Post, the organization Historic Denver, Inc. has an oped defending Denver’s demolition ordinance.  This isn’t in and of itself surprising, and neither is the fact that people who seek to extend their rights over your property would commit a number of logical fallacies, while employing all sorts of rhetorical sleight of hand.

The authors assume that if some is good, more is better.  By admitting that Denver’s historic ordinance has protected historic properties for 40 years, they place the burden of proof on themselves to show that additional protections are necessary.  They go on to mention a number of historic districts and buildings that were saved much longer than four years ago, without showing any building that has been both recognizable and saved since the demolition ordinance was passed.

As  to the property that started the recent conversation, they refer to the “Wallbank House,” a name that virtually nobody would recognize, writing out entirely the name of the man who actually bought and paid for the property, Gary Yourtz.  A nice touch to show where the authors’ sympathies lie, with houses rather than with the people who inhabit them.  It makes sense that they don’t refer to the case in any depth, since it went against them in just about every way conceivable: the demolition objection was withdrawn, largely under pressure from the community, and was in any case initially filed by one neighbor and by one resident of Arapahoe County.

They claim that since everyone buying a house knows the rules, it’s perfectly fair to property-owners. I doubt Mr. Yourtz knew these rules, and until his case hit the papers, I doubt most Denverites knew about them.  Sniffing that you knew the risks only makes sense if most people actually do.

They also quote some telling statistics.  This past year, not a single building threatened by demolition was granted historic status, although 10 were identified as “potentially significant.”  They nowhere quote the costs involved in pursuing the claims, either by the landowner or by the city.  As in many such laws, filing the objection entails trivial cost, while the investigation and legal defenses can run in the the tens of thousands.  These are extraordinarily expensive conversations, and the price is only incidentally borne by those starting them.

As I’ve said before, I’m all in favor of historic preservation.  But Historic Denver, Inc., is trying to use the law the stack the deck in favor of making some people live in a museum against their will.

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