What Do Preservationists Stand to Gain from Conserving Buildings?

Categories: Government
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Scott Wiener helps developers, not preservation
Last week, we wrote about how Supervisor Scott Wiener was trying to push back the preservationist movement from conserving every crumbling building and sign in our fair city. As it turns out, some preservationists could potentially gain -- personally-- from marking every tree, park, and library as historic.

Wiener was rather blunt in his complaint, claiming the Historic Preservation Commission is unbalanced, consisting of only members who favor conserving all aspects of the city. In a move that certainly delighted urban developers, Wiener has called for a hearing to discuss how to better balance the city's past with the need for its future.

"If we have a commission made up exclusively of advocates for historic preservation -- only advocates -- that is a problem," Wiener said.

But there's a less obvious problem than preservation commissions wanting to preserve things. Some of the commissioners are historic consultants themselves -- and could benefit personally from their decisions.

Here is the backstory: The city hired a local historic preservation consultancy firm to conduct surveys that would help the commission and the city create historic districts. That firm, Page & Turnbull, used its own formula to decide what properties would be deemed worthy, and decided that more than 600 properties in SOMA would become part of a new historic district.

So anyone who owns a property in a historic district and wants to do anything to it would hire historic preservation consultants to guide them.

Charles Chase, for instance, is both chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission and a project director for Architectural Resources Group, a local historic preservation consulting company. His company, along with Page & Turnbull, is listed as one of the 19 selected consultants that could be hired to help with redevelopment projects in historic districts.

Is this creating a scenario where commissioners and planners could potentially benefit from creating larger Historic Districts?

Concern about this type of conflict of interest is starting to surface at City Hall. In a letter from Townsend Street Associates, Raymond Bregante, the managing partner, calls Chase and the commissioners out on this very issue.

"Has the [Planning] Department created an unintended appearance of a conflict of interest by allowing a consultant to increase its potential client pool by proposing and justifying new property for historic preservation in SOMA?" Bregante wrote.

Chase didn't return repeated phone calls to SF Weekly, and Wiener refused to comment on the seemingly potential conflict of interest. 

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7 comments
AB
AB

FOR THE MILLIONTH TIME, survey does not automatically equal designated historic district. surveys are a decision making tool, NOT a decision. Erin, since you love reporting on preservation so much, it would benefit you to learn some of the basic fundamental concepts.

Ash2727
Ash2727

SF Weekly, you've committed yourself to being a publication that unceasingly produces assumptions and faulty information.

First off, you make the statement that "preservationists are running around trying to mark libraries, buildings, trees and parks as historic"suggesting that perhaps these are not capable of possessing any historical value?

Secondly, why doesn't SF do something with all of the abandoned buildings they already have (especially in the dogpatch area) and utilize those properties as affordable housing units rather than claiming that's what they intend to do in the now historic SOMA district? You and I know that what they really want to do is construct some shoddy eye sore of a building for the budding young professionals who flock to that part of town. So is the preservation commission really helping or hindering your city? Maybe they should focus on making the community better by rehabilitating the pre-exiting structures they have as well as working on fixing up the areas of the TL, Hunters Point and Bay View before creating another mess for themselves. The Historic Preservation Commission is doing their job while also presenting that there are other issues in SF that should take precedence. They are also giving allowing sometime for your city to realize that new development and construction should really be on the back burner at this point in time.

Tom Prete
Tom Prete

That historic-resources survey should have been an important turning point for San Francisco. Knowing what historic resources are out there, where they are and how they rank in importance should have enabled this city to move forward while respecting the past. It should have been a way for developers to know where the most historically valuable properties are and direct their activities more sensitively. It should have been a way for preservationists to put their efforts into saving the most important elements instead of fighting over every change irrespective of importance. San Francisco should not -- must not -- change in a way that makes it indistinguishable as San Francisco. But it can't be put in a bottle and be expected to thrive.

njudah
njudah

as always, something good (historical preservation) is turned into cronyism and moneymaking schemes. H makes a good point too. It's unfortunate, because lost in all of this is that much of what draws people to SF either as tourists or as residents is the unique architecture and nature of our neighborhoods. If we completely bulldoze historic preservation, we end up with "suburbia by the sea." but, if we totally say 'no no no no' to any change, we risk stagnation.

priorities based on actual history, not feelings, and sanity when it comes to development = win.

h. brown
h. brown

Erin,

When digging up dead bodies, dig up the entire body before you start the autopsy. You're right on but it goes deeper. Peskin's 'Historical Preservation' group is just another front to give tax relief and cheap loans to the super rich who own these antique properties. Before this body existed, Aaron had to use the state Mills Act to designate his friends homes and projects as worthy of tax exempt status. Take the Ritz Carlton (formerly the Chron building I believe) at 695 Market. They gutted the entire structure and left only the facade which they filled with modern multi-million dollar condos (complete with doorman). Then, Aaron tried to get a million a year off his rich buddies' taxes (think he got a half mil).

Just another tax dodge for the wealthy.

Go Giants!

h.

ash2727
ash2727

Haha, you're so wrong it's almost entertaining. It's infuriating that the majority of people who actually know nothing about it have the most to say. I've worked with the HP committee/landmarks advisory board as well as preservation firms throughout the city. You and SF Weekly need to get your facts straight.

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