2015 Yearbook

24 Y E A R B O O K 2 0 1 5 was increasingly well organised and began to out-argue and in some cases outnumber the opposition in a series of public meetings. Meanwhile, however, particular opponents of the Yalecrest designation had the influential ear of state politicians, and persuaded a member of the state legislature (a developer) to sponsor a bill to bring in a state moratorium to halt any proposals to designate new LHDs in the state. The Yalecrest LHD application proceeded to a Planning Commission briefing in January 2011 before the State Legislature, demonstrating a lack of Republican immunity from ‘government over-reach’, passed the moratorium on historic designation, now negotiated to apply only to Salt Lake City. The objective, it was argued, was to allow time for the community to review, to reconcile and to agree on future proposals for the area. The designation moratorium, enacted for a year, was extended for a further year in 2012. Salt Lake City, meanwhile, revised its ordinance designation procedures, adopting new provisions to persuade the state of improved clarity and accountability in the process. Responding to the prevalence of ill-informed criticism of designation, Salt Lake City recognised the need to promote better public awareness and understanding of preservation. The city rewrote its historic residential design guidelines as a ‘go-to’ handbook for preservation guidance and information, launched and co-sponsored a state-wide study on the economic impacts of historic preservation with Utah Heritage Foundation, and redesigned its preservation website. Current Yalecrest designation activity Revised city ordinance provisions encouraged smaller LHD designations and, with the conclusion of the state moratorium in May 2013, the recently formed KEEP Yalecrest (Keep Educating and Encouraging Preservation in Yalecrest) community group submitted the first of a series of LHD applications for specific areas based on original subdivisions of the neighbourhood (averaging around 30 houses). KEEP has also been organising a series of educational preservation workshops and walking tours. Currently, nine LHD applications have been received and, as of February 2015, four have been designated by Salt Lake City Council. A specific new ordinance provision adopted in 2012, in response to state criticisms of insufficient ‘accountability’, required the city to gauge public support for designation within a proposed historic district through a local opinion poll. Since zoning and development decisions should be decided ‘in the best interests of the city’ they do not necessarily, or indeed often, reflect local public opinion. In this case, however, if a majority of residents voted against designation, the new ordinance requires a city council super-majority (five of seven) to designate the district. To date two proposed LHDs have polled a majority against, perhaps informed by last minute misinformation scares. In turn this has flushed out a reluctance by specific members of council to vote contrary to this very local opinion poll. Faced with the prospect of a negative council vote, both applicants for those proposed districts have withdrawn their designation applications prior to city council decision. Yalecrest’s future At the time of writing, four new historic districts in Yalecrest have been designated (c125 houses), two have been withdrawn (c55 houses), and three applications are in review (c270 houses). Meanwhile, as the residential property market continues to heat up, the pressure for demolition and new construction, and the loss of existing houses and character across the undesignated parts of the neighbourhood, will increase. Reflections Yalecrest raises important issues around the protection of historic neighbourhoods in the US. Perhaps foremost among them is the importance of promoting knowledge and understanding of local preservation activity to counteract both community fear of the unknown and active misinformation by opponents of designation. More positively, the Yalecrest experience also demonstrates that ‘bottom-up’ initiatives can be much more effective than ‘top-down’ interventions, and shows the potential scope and effectiveness of community groups such as KEEP Yalecrest in a local democratic process. Carl Oliver Leith BA(Hons) BPhil DipConsPol MAUD MRTPI IHBC is senior historic preservation planner with Salt Lake City Corporation, Utah, USA. He has held local government positions with the City of London, County Mayo and the City of Rock Hill in South Carolina, and has worked with communities across several US states as conservation and urban design consultant with Winter & Company in Boulder, Colorado. Yalecrest: architecture and streetscape