What you see at top is the apartment structure at 104 S. Edgefield in Oak Cliff -- or what remains of it, following a fire in 2005. Twice the city has tried to demo the building, for obvious reasons; it's the very definition of what staff calls "an imminent threat to public health and safety." In January and in August of this year, the property came before the Landmark Commission's Winnetka Heights/Lake Cliff Task Force; the first time the commission voted not to raze the structure, but, in September, it gave the city the thumbs up to tear down. And, far as the city's concerned, that delay was unnecessarily time-consuming and money-wasting, since the property owner clearly had no intention of giving the joint an extreme makeover.
Which is why, come Monday, the city council's Public Safety Committee is scheduled once more take up the subject of how to expedite the demolition of "substandard structures" in historically designated districts. Since August, the city's been working to remove the Landmark Commission from the process of condemning and tearing down structures it considers hazardous to your health; it wants to leave the decision to code enforcement and the City Attorney's Office, pending final approval in municipal court. Which, as we noted in September, doesn't sit well preservationists for a number of reasons. After the jump, the city's rationale behind its decision to move forward anyhow.
From the council's briefing memo, this frustrated backgrounder:
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• In past 5 years, CAO [City Attorney's Office] and property owners have filed 37 applications for certifications of demolition with the Landmark Commission involving 30 structures in cases where the CAO obtained demolition order.
• Of the 37 applications, Landmark Commission denied 10 and postponed 2
• 0 structures have been repaired as result of denial or postponement
• Of 10 denials, CAO and property owners have re-filed 6 applications because structure's condition did not improve
• Landmark Commission approved all 6 applications that were re-filed
• CAO will soon renew request for demolition in other 4 cases
The original August proposal left out the Landmark Committee entirely from the decision process -- which also left out any interested parties who might have wanted to save the property in question. But the City Attorney's Office has met twice in recent weeks with a handful of members from the Landmark Commission to hammer out a revised proposal that would allow for some public comment.
Only, the Landmark Committee hasn't even been briefed on this new proposal scheduled to go to the Public Safety Committee on Monday, which is why there's a good chance this item may be withdrawn from the agenda before the meeting. And despite the compromises, some preservationists fear that the city's arguments -- and decaying exhibits used to make it -- are a little disingenuous to begin with. Because it's one thing to bulldoze a rotting roadblock to revitilzation. But what happens when the Landmark Cmmission is removed from the process entirely -- and, whoops, there goes 508 Park Avenue or the Statler Hotel?
Says Preservation Dallas executive director Katherine Seale, who's also a member of the Landmark Committee's Designation Committee, "The reason why the city council appoints the Landmark Commission is to prevent needless demolitions, and if they're removed form the process, there's no insurance we don't have buildings that just look bad or are vacant that are otherwise perfect candidates for renovation torn own because somebody doesn't understand what they're looking at." --Robert Wilonsky