Monday, April 28, 2008
It's settled law that demolition or alteration of buildings can be restricted by law simply because something historic happened there. But can, and should, historic preservation laws extend to restricting the "use" of a building, when no significant change to the architecture takes place?
Here are two vignettes. In Berlin, Germany, voters this weekend failed to cast ballots in sufficient numbers to trump a decision of the regional government to close old Tempelhof airport, built in Nazi Germany but made famous during the postwar airlift, when food and supplies kept West Berlin going, in spite of a Soviet blockade. (German law holds the intelligent nuance of not allowing the results of a referendum to count if not enough people care to vote.) The terminal building won't be torn down -- it's protected by law -- but it probably won't be used as an airport any longer. By today's standards, it's far too close to downtown, among other drawbacks.
Meanwhile, in the Bronx, N.Y., local activists are trying to preserve the status as low-cost housing of 1520 Sedgwick Ave., where, many say, hip hop music was invented by DJ Kool Herc back in the early 1970s. Some proposals would turn the building into higher-priced housing.
It's one thing for government to preserve historic buildings from defacement or demolition. It's also rather uncontroversial to put in place historic plaques and conduct tours. But should land use law impose restrictions on the use of a building, simply to maintain its historic use, in the face of market pressures for other uses?
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