Saving Our Ecological Footprint

Published 10:29 am Friday, June 21, 2013

By Jennifer Bernocco

When I recently learned that Historic Franklin was losing another home to demolition my first thought was “I thought Franklin evolved from this “old school” way of thinking” with the recent Hayden High School project underway. Many people assume that just because a house is old or has been neglected it is ok to destroy it. I spent many hours and literally several years debunking this stigma offering seminars and workshops for solutions to historic homeowners, potential historic homeowners, and city leaders while encouraging the approval of guidelines for neighborhood stability. I worked with and visited some of the best-structured historic districts in Virginia, many others throughout Virginia, and other states only to hear this news. I have researched how to save money, quality, and homes without sacrificing old for new and new for old so that people could live comfortably offering a better way to strengthen the city’s tax base and bring in more revenue so that the city could could give back to the community increasing the citizens quality of life through schools, recreation, employees, safety of citizens, etc. Why? Because this is my passion and I care.

To the homeowners or potential homeowners of historic structures: historic structures are quality structures built with the best materials that have withstood the test of time, old can be mixed with new without sacrificing your comfort but rather increasing it “ensuring your health, welfare, safety, and property values while providing quality services in an effective and cost-efficient manner” as stated in Franklin’s mission statement; but not without proper guidance. To the community leaders of Franklin: historic structures are quality structures that are insurance to a stronger tax base and revenue due to stable neighborhoods and accomplishing your promised mission statement without compromising the monetary needs of homeowners, schools, library, fire/rescue/police services/employees, downtown businesses, etc.; but not without proper guidance to those homeowners.

Allowing citizens and other people to destroy the kind of quality desired that Franklin has to offer rather than encouraging restoration of quality has made historic neighborhoods across the state vulnerable. Not only is demolition expensive, upward to $15.00 per square foot multiplied by at least 2000 square feet for every home taken down, take into consideration the purchase price of the property, if there are hazards such as asbestos or lead paint that causes health risks and needs special care for removal before demolition, hauling away fees, which landfill to store all of the debris in until the end of time, and the hole that’s left in the neighborhood. These are expenses that add up and affect everyone.

What makes these neighborhoods even more vulnerable are the laws being passed at the state level. The state has passed one detrimental law to Virginia neighborhoods/communities stating that rental property owners who own multiple properties may now qualify to pay prorate taxes on their rental property if they follow affordable housing guidelines. The other potentially damaging law that has been introduced states that any community across the state that is in need of “affordable housing” can construct any type of housing that is considered affordable in any neighborhood. Such groups as Habitat for Humanity as well as investors that support affordable homeownership or rental property can construct any type of affordable housing in holes in neighborhoods across the state unless the neighborhood is designated a historic district. In other words, our state Government understands the value of historic homes to communities.

Does the cost of restoration outweigh the cost of demolition including the long term effects? The standard way of thinking about this topic has it that people believed it was easier and more economical to demolish and rebuild rather than restore. Recently it has been proven that restoration is far more affordable and supports the going green initiatives our nation is moving forward with. Land, without the original structure, has to be (re)sold and (re)purchased creating more costs for newer building materials, supplies, contractors, electric/water/sewage (re)hook up, building permits, long term damage done to a community’s potential revenue, and the homeowner’s properties that surround the new noncontributing structure are rarely taken into consideration. These findings have important consequences for the broader domain to the fact that it can take anywhere between 10 and 80 years for new, energy-efficient buildings that were built more efficiently to overcome the negative impacts to the climate that were brought on during the construction period of the property.

Recent studies like these shed new light on historic preservation, which previous studies had not addressed. While people rarely admit as much, many people often take for granted that this way of thinking about affordable housing actually costs more than restoration because they think “new” is better while sacrificing quality. Although historic preservation may seem trivial, it is in fact crucial in terms of Franklin’s concerns for their community. The state Government knows the advantages of having a neighborhood listed on the National Historic Register, you should too. The cost of restoring historic homes adds greatly to the future of any community.

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Jennifer Bernocco is a long time area resident and can be reached at