Historic Context for the Wedge’s Historic District

Last September, Ward 10 Council Member Lisa Bender’s office held an informational meeting regarding a proposed Lowry Hill East historic district. It was a homeowners-only affair, intended for those whose properties would be included, though there were plenty of party crashers: eager homeowners from outside the proposed boundaries, a guy from Kingfield, and at least two renters.

Map of northern Wedge R6 zoning (with two cats)
The northern Wedge’s R6 zoning (dark green) is the key to understanding historic dissatisfaction (kitty cats added for teardown effect).

I showed up late, right about the time it devolved into a sort of call-and-response routine; people were slapping each other on the back over their very, very historic properties (Hey Joe, I don’t see your house on this map, it’s pretty historic… Yeah and what about Bill, his beautiful home isn’t on here either). Our former Council Member Meg Tuthill was there to suggest that City staff take a historic drive-by on the 2400 block of Aldrich. It was an amazing scene (in 2017 I’ll be endorsing whichever Council candidate promises to hold the greatest number of wildly entertaining historic district info sessions).

In February, Bender officially nominated the Lowry Hill East Residential Historic District. This was followed by an article in which former Council Member Tuthill says it would have been preferable to put the historic district in areas with many fewer historic homes: “I’m much, much more concerned about the protection of the housing stock north of 24th Street and south of 26th.”

In the same article, the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association’s (LHENA) President — a former Tuthill aide — described the desire of some neighborhood residents to expand the historic district as far south as 28th Street. I’m able to confirm the accuracy of this assessment because the guy behind me at the September meeting was muttering “the whole damn Wedge” in response to a question about the preferred composition of the district.

Some of the dissatisfaction with this proposal has to do with the fact that the included properties, while certainly the most deserving of historic status, are already zoned R2 (low density, two-family district). New development isn’t a threat in this area. For the anti-development folks, this historic designation won’t solve their problem; it just means a bunch of regulatory headaches for homeowners, without any of the desired downzoning side-effects.

The blocks contained within the planned historic district were rezoned to low-density in 1975; this is true of most of the neighborhood south of 24th Street. LHENA, which was formed in 1970 to advance the cause of downzoning, declared victory at the time. The northern part of the neighborhood, however, remains an area of high density zoning, which explains the current fascination with the idea of a North Wedge Historic District (Save the apex from R6!). Rezoning the north Wedge is the final piece of unfinished business in a 45-year battle against apartment and multi-unit housing (along with their resident dealers, pimps, prostitutes, and motorcycle gangs).

zoning we won!
November 1975. LHENA declares victory.
Things were refreshingly explicit in the old days.

Aside from considerations of zoning-related geography, there’s a strategic reason for the anti-development crowd to be skeptical of this historic district: Putting all your nicest old homes in one basket could mean losing the leverage to cram a bunch of undeserving properties into some future Super-Sized Wedge Historic District. That dynamic helps explain why a nearly identical historic district plan died in 2008 amid neighborhood concerns, reported in the Wedge newspaper, “that acceptance of this proposal could limit future possibilities for expansion.”

This is not to say the proposed district doesn’t have its share of fans. Council Member Bender reports a largely positive response from affected homeowners. And despite the desire of some residents for a far larger historic district, the LHENA Board put their symbolic weight behind the nomination two weeks ago. The organization has also formed a “historic” committee, which will no doubt have expansion on its agenda long into the future.

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