Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Bringing Down the House to History

My family's lives for the past two years have taken ups and downs, and while the topic of this current post would have upset me quite a bit two years ago, now I sort of find it amusing. The question about our house's future literally involves ups and downs.

We tried hard, but did not qualify for $30,000 Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) funds to raise our house because our house was a few inches above the Base Flood Elevation. The Base Flood Elevation is set to change in New Orleans, but by the old model we were slightly above it. Too bad, we thought. We would repair our home and not elevate it.

Then we were so happy from the $30,000 we received from the Road Home to elevate our house. We could have raised it anywhere from 1 inch to 10 feet and not violate zoning laws. We thought long and hard about how high to raise it, and decided it was simple. Our house flooded 3 feet, so why not raise it 3 feet? We would save all sorts of money with flood insurance, and if Katrina happened again, our house would be safe. Plus when the new Base Flood Elevation maps are released, we would probably be just above the suggested level. So Abry Brothers raised our house 4 feet, and when they were finished with the new foundation they would lower it a foot. Here is what our house looks like now, raised 4 feet:
It is obviously higher than our neighbor's houses, but still just as historic, and perhaps even more inclined to be historic in the future as it is less inclined to flood.

Then we received word that we received a $45,000 grant from our Historic Grant application. However, they looked at our house and decided that we raised it too high to be eligible for the grant, because they said we are too high to be historic. Because we have not yet laid the new foundation, and could lower the house, I asked them at what height could our house still be considered historic. If we raised it 2 feet, and so if Katrina happened again, it would flood one foot, but could we still qualify for the $45,000 grant? It would have been a smart financial decision for us to demolish the house and rebuild new. But we felt that we owed it to New Orleans, our neighborhood, and our house, to do what we could to preserve it. It's nearly 100 years old and has so much history and character. So for now we've appealed their decision. But in typical post-Katrina New Orleans, we would have been rewarded if we didn't elevate our house to avoid future flooding.

This is where I shake my head, sigh, and go fill up my wine glass, and wonder at exactly what height is historic, and at what height is it non-historic? Nobody seems to know.

Update (Nov 3, 2007): we can get the grant if we raise the house two feet, and not three. So we'll flood one foot if we get the same type of flood as Katrina again, but we will gladly lower the house to get the grant.


Anonymous said...

Insane. Just insane.

Leigh C. said...

Too damned awfully, horribly stupid for words.

Sue said...

I checked with a few historic archaeology types, here's what Jeff B. had to say about the situation:

"He is part of a historic district so the district has to keep the historic look. By raising one house 3 or 4 feet the collective appearance is altered since one house now dominates in a way it would not have in the past. If he wants to make four feet work for his house it is really very simple, he just has to get all of his neighbors to raise their houses four feet, too! Then the collective appearance is not altered."

There you go, how hard could that be??

Michael Homan said...

I'll raise their houses at night when they aren't looking. Could I borrow Jeff B.'s jack?

Anonymous said...

What anonymous said. Pure insanity.

Sorry we missed you Saturday. The Dangerblond Entourage entered and exited quickly. ;)

Sue said...

Here's another historic archaeologist's response about the situation (you don't know this one, amazingly enough):

"From the image, the house appears to be part of a historic streetscape, and one can’t alter the flow of rooflines in such a case and still maintain the integrity of the district. In this case, flood protection and maintaining historic integrity might be incompatible, at least in the way this property owner wants to frame it.

How are they going to raise the house? Build a three-foot foundation, put it on stilts? Either option would ruin the integrity of the structure. Historic preservation funds are only available for structures with integrity and those would be extreme alterations."

Seems pretty goofy to me given the 'below sea level" nature of New Orleans. Maybe your midnight roof-raising idea is your best bet ;-)

Michael Homan said...

It's Mid-City New Orleans. Over the past 100 years there is absolutely no consistency with roof heights, whether it be for doubles like the one to the left or single shotguns like the one to the right.

Sue said...

Hmmm, I would think you could use that as part of your argument then. It's a great point, one that already diverges from the historic preservation norm for New Orleans. Hey, nothing ventured, right?

Anonymous said...

What a weird bummer to have. I feel pretty strongly about maintaining historic values of houses, so I'm glad people have incentive to keep things historic, but I don't know why that has to keep you from raising your house. You make a couple interesting points--what's the point of historic preservation if you aren't "preserving" the damn house? It also seems to me that New Orleans has a special perspective on these issues, and your raised house would be testament to the monumental event of 2005, while still showing the world what cool architecture looks like. I really hope you guys can get the grant, but you know that $45k wouldn't mean much to you if you flooded again. Keep us posted on your latest battle!

Tim said...

I'm pretty sure I've heard of grants to relocate significant and historic structures to avoid demolition. I would think a good lawyer could make the case that you are relocating "up."

But seriously, this is a prime example of how the left hand does not know what the right is doing. Government agencies should be helping us build better and safer. I have no doubt your house elevated a few feet will still be beautiful and historically significant. My sympathies to you and yours.



Anonymous said...

Let me get this straight. If you raise above 2 feet it is no longer historic. But if you only raise 2 feet and G-d forbid another Katrina which inundates you with another 3 feet but this time perhaps ruins the integrity of the house so you need to tear down the City loses a historic house. But at 3 feet elevation you maintain your "non historic" historic house.

Confused just trying to format their logic. Good luck. I say tell them to shove the 45,000 you now where > high enough in case of another flood.