One of our loyal readers recently contacted me to relate a disappointing change in her neighborhood. A large old home likely dating way back in the 1800s was now a mere pile of rubble. She found a man gazing at the wreckage. He had wanted to rent the home but got no response from the owner. A new sewer line nearby for Kansas City may or may not signal something is replacing the structure. I am only vaguely familiar with this place, but I am very familiar with the issue. Architectural and history preservation often run counter to development plans for property where more money is to be made by destroying the old and building anew. Maybe structural or environmental issues made the razing prudent, or maybe not. But either way I have no easy answer for this clash between old and new. Private property rights and neighborhood or community wishes have oft differed in the past. That’s true of subdivision zoning. But it’s also true for historic preservation. I offer no easy answers where one policy fits all. Rules that benefit my point of view in one situation might not be so pleasant in another. For example, homeowner associations often require a sterile sameness of all who live within the boundaries. One man’s idea of perfect neatness to protect an investment is another’s intrusion into common sense usage. A recurring story in today’s community is when youths build a tree house in the back yard or salvage lumber from somewhere and build a shack back in a brush patch. Then homeowners who desire seamless sameness point out that the rules forbid such original thinking and effort by youth. The kids’ palace is to some an eyesore. Never mind that the kids will grow up and the shack or tree house can easily go away, as children grow up quick. Cities often mandate similar rules. Some people battle for the right to use native plants and grasses in landscaping. In our free nation the allowable height of monoculture grasses on lawns can be contentious. Chickens made the news in some communities in recent years with debates over whether they could be kept in backyard pens. I’m not an advocate for neglected yards or free range pork or fowl within town. But I do wish the youths could build play houses and the wildflower advocate could apply sustainable plant diversity to a lawn. However if I wish for these property rights freedoms, I cannot be a blanket advocate against the right of someone to tear down a structure they own to make room for something new. My enjoyment of the graceful and unique lines in old structures, and the true stories in their history, makes letting change occur a bit difficult for me. About all we can do is nurture community support for preservation when possible. Weston has long valued its historic neighborhoods and the community works to ensure they will endure. Some individuals taking risks made this possible. They also worked hard to organize and communicate values and benefits. Weston is a well-liked destination in the region because of this effort. Older homes in other small towns or in rural areas of the county don’t have such confirmed support. When they are preserved, it’s often because a family or individual finds a fix-it-up place a calling in life. Government does exert control over new property regarding building codes, planning and zoning rules and long-term infrastructure development such as roads. An old house however is pretty left to the fate of investors. We can’t make the whole county a historic preservation district. But I would hope those who move into the county or buy property as an investment development realize that old houses have value to people living near them. They’re like old friends in a neighborhood. They also add value as a flavor of true sense of place that history imparts. When they can be incorporated into growth rather than flattened out of the way, it will be appreciated. I’ve seen other old estates once surrounded by fields that are now ringed by modern houses. The view is different, but at least a unique and interesting corner of the neighborhood survives. With the rapid growth Platte County is experiencing, change is inevitable and compromise often painful, but it is possible.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.