At the very bottom of today's city council agenda you'll find a topic first introduced back in August, when the city was looking for every possible penny during the latest budget squeeze -- a proposal to increase fees for zoning, development and building permit applications. Last summer, preservationists in particular were furious with the city's plan to charge for permits involving work on homes in historic districts -- furious because they've always been gratis, due in large part to the risk and expense involved with rehabbing old homes that might otherwise have gone neglected or met with the bulldozer, not to mention the copious paperwork required every time a historic home owner wants to paint or plant.
As preservationist Virgina McAlester told Unfair Park, "People in historic districts are providing a valuable service to Dallas at their expense -- keeping up our history and keeping with our rules."
But this morning, Preservation Dallas exec director Katherine Seale says those proposed fees, but a small slice of the larger pie involving new fees for home-builders who still have issues with the proposal, were taken off the table late yesterday. Council member Delia Jasso guaranteed as much Tuesday afternoon in an e-mail sent to former council member Bob Stimson, the president of the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce: "I have worked extensively with staff on this issue and I am pleased to tell you that the proposed historic fees will be deleted from tomorrow's City Council voting agenda."
Seale says the removal of the historic fees came only after many meetings with a city-appointed task force convened to address the controversial proposal, which will still be discussed by the council this afternoon.
"The city said, 'Times are tough, so tough,'" Seale says. But those who restore or buy homes in historic districts "see themselves as pioneers who've gone out on a limb and done something risky," Seale says. "It takes time. It's a lot more onerous to own these homes. But the reason they do it is the net gain: Preservation ultimately stabilizes neighborhoods and property values and makes neighborhoods more desirable places to live. It's just that they happen over a long period
of time, so there has to be continuous compliance and education as homeowners move in and out of neighborhoods. And the neighborhoods feel like they've given and given and given to the city, which ultimately benefits. To nickel and dime the very folks who've worked for decades to make the city what everybody wants the city to be is ridiculous."
Seale and other preservationists will still head to City Hall today, though, because theirs was a two-pronged request -- remove fees and "move us back into the general fund, where we've been for 27 years, as opposed to the enterprise fund." That final matter has yet to be resolved.
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