Letters: Historic districts thwart density
In a recent My View piece ("Historic districts worsen housing crisis"), I argued that the proposed Eastmoreland historic district would block lot-splitting and discourage ADUs, thus preventing more housing in the neighborhood and, hence, more housing citywide.
Dean Gisvold disagrees. In a letter to the editor, he says lot-splitting is allowed, and ADUs are encouraged in the Irvington historic district where he lives.
Not really. True, the zoning code permits lot-splitting, even in historic districts. So even there, you can take a big lot with an old house and turn it into two or more smaller lots, each with a house.
To do that, however, you have to demolish the old structure, and that's all but impossible in a historic district. That's the catch that Gisvold doesn't mention. So, yes, you can split lots in a historic district, but, no, you really can't, except where a vacant but buildable parcel can be carved off.
The zoning code allows ADUs, too. But exterior remodeling is arduous in a historic district, even to add, say, an outside entrance to a basement ADU. It requires a slow, expensive and uncertain review process and sometimes onerous design restrictions (e.g., wood-frame windows only).
It's no surprise, then, that the Irvington historic district, billed on its website as "one of the largest in the entire United States," with 2,800 structures, has so few ADUs — just 25, Gisvold estimates. He says the district approves most ADU applications, but it seems few homeowners bother to apply.
I'm pleased Gisvold sees the need for increased density even if he doesn't see how historic designation impedes it. Unfortunately, proponents of the Eastmoreland historic district see the impediment and want it. That's why you often see side-by-side yard signs, one saying "No High Density," the other, "Support the Eastmoreland Historic District."