When a house is demolished, it always seems sudden. When it happens in your neighborhood or on our regular route, it can seem surprising or disorienting.
That’s what happened to Curtis Stafford, who has been working on the house at 303 St. Joseph for months. When 400 St. Joseph, in his neighborhood, was demolished, he called me because of my website columbiahistorichomes.com.
He’s now concerned that the house across the street from him, 308 St. Joseph, will be demolished.
Stafford knows houses aren’t demolished without due process. “I know you can’t suddenly wake up one day and tear down a house that you own,” Stafford said in an email. “My issue is that there is very little protection for historic homes.”
And is the house at 308 St. Joseph worth saving? Maybe, maybe not.
Sometimes people think a house should be saved simply because it is old. Stafford said that while the Boone County Assessor’s Office says his house was built in 1900, he said he’s found newspapers in the walls of his home indicating it was built in 1867. He also said the house at 308 St. Joseph was built around the 1870s, citing the State Historical Society for this information.
Those dates might be inaccurate.
Deb Sheals, a historic preservation consultant headquartered in Columbia, said, “Assessor’s records for construction dates are notoriously inaccurate for very old properties. It might be a starting point but certainly not a good source for a definitive date.”
However, if a building is one of those deemed a historical property, the Historic Preservation Commission has had developed a new interactive map that includes more accurate dates.
As for the house at 308 St. Joseph, Sheals said, “It’s cute, albeit in need of some attention.” She added, it has lost a few historic features and seems to be relatively intact, but would not be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places due to its many alterations.
However, she also notes, it “makes a nice addition to the streetscape.”
Streetscape is what can be destroyed when a house here and there on a street are destroyed. The way the street looks, the streetscape, is ruined. For example, St. Joseph Street already has some of this effect, with a couple of apartment buildings intermixed with the bungalow homes on the street.
That’s what has Stafford worried. He loves his neighborhood’s art vibe and the loss of a house tear at the fabric of a neighborhood. “I also think these two articles might explain why my neighborhood and I seem panicked.”
But for people who are concerned about demolitions in their neighborhood, here’s the process in Columbia, Missouri:
1. The owner or the agent for the owner of the house fills out an online application. This application process is not to get permission, but mainly to make sure all the utilities have been disconnected so that a demolition does not create a public safety problem. Here’s a link to the form.
2. When the application is filled out, the address and age of the structure is forwarded to the city of Columbia’s Planning and Development city planner staffing the Historic Preservation Commission. The form also asks if the structure is in a historic district, a historic landmark or historically significant. Rachel Bacon, the city planner staffing the committee says she always double checks this information. (NOTE: As of October 1, 2011, the Planning and Development Department, the Office of Neighborhood Services, and the Public work’s Building and Site Development division, will be combined to form the Community Development Department.)
3. Double checking the age of the building in some ways can be easy.
Boone County has an excellent search engine to find out about various characteristics of real estate. Here is how you can find out how old a structure is, the size and characteristics of it, the property owner and even the value of a building.
2. Select Assessed Real Property Search
3. Obtain user name and password
4. Search by address or name.
4. However, as noted above, the assessor records are not always accurate for construction dates. If a building is one of those deemed a historical property, the Historic Preservation Commission has had developed a new interactive map that includes more accurate dates.
5. To double check information provided on the Demolition Permit Form, Rachel Bacon often goes to see the structure in question, visually surveying it and even takes photographs, if warranted. If the structure is in a neighborhood with a Neighborhood Association, she typically contacts the head of that Neighborhood Association to let them know about a change in their neighborhood.
You can find out if there’s a Neighborhood Association in your area by going here.
6. Any additional information Rachel collects, along with the demolition permit information is given to the Historic Preservation Commission, which has 10 working days to review the permit. The HPC cannot stop a demolition, but this 10-day waiting period gives the Commission an opportunity to contact the property owner and offer assistance or to suggest ways the structure could be saved. If the structure cannot be saved, either because it is too deteriorated or otherwise compromised to be saved, the Commission can request historic salvage rights. In that case, historic components of the building might be removed and stored for future uses. Examples of such items include doors, window frames, and so forth.
7. There is no way the Commission – or the City Council – can prevent a structure from being demolished.
8. The fee for the demolition permit has recently been increased to $50 for a residential structure and $100 for a commercial structure.
9. The demolition permit does not require the property owner to disclose why the house is being demolished or to submit plans for what the owner plans to do with the property once the structure is removed.