Friday, February 17, 2012

Mothballing 101

Remember this ol' gal here? (No, not me, the house!)

I wrote about our day helping clean up this historic duplex and gave you a tour of the interior with its many preserved historic details here and also invited you to the virtual version of the "Open House in this post.

Not only has this house witnessed many moments in the history of Jacksonville and the US, seen Springfield rise, decline and rise again, been a home to many diverse people, but after passing its final inspection last week, it has also become the symbol and face of a brand-new legislation that will be a blessing to our historic districts: the mothballing ordinance.

What on earth is a mothballing ordinance??
I mean, everybody knows what a mothball is but what does that have to do with historic districts?
The Mothball Legislation or rather, Ordinance 2011-408, which passed this past fall amends current zoning code to allow owners of condemned buildings in Jacksonville's historic districts to "mothball" them instead of demolishing them.

(Remember, "condemned" only means that your house is not up to modern code and you're missing the "certificate of occupation"; the only thing "wrong" with your house might be something trivial such as that you don't have a working bathroom, NOT that it will fall on your head the moment you look at it).

Once a historic structure is gone, it is gone for good. It cannot ever be replaced. Sure, infill can be made to look historically accurate to the district but it is not what makes a district historic. Preserving a historic home is a challenging feat and often, not for the faint of heart. In past years, Code Enforcement has been having a regular ball in Springfield, helped by the fact that our neighborhood's eclectic mix of home owners includes members of low-income brackets. When faced with Code Enforcement's demands paired with huge, daily fines being levied on them, the outcome for those with strained or no resources to restore the building immediately was often demolition through the city.

Don't get me wrong: Code Enforcement does an important job and I appreciate their concern for the safety and welfare in housing issues, however, nothing in modern municipal code accounted for the special needs and challenges of historic districts and their structures.

Originally this policy was intended to encourage the owners to sell the properties but you can guess what it did in a stressed real estate market like the one we've been dealing with these past couple of years.

Also, the new owner would have to deal with the same dilemma of having to immediately and fully restore the building or face demolition disregarding the fact that the restoration of a historic house usually takes years. Current code does not allow for this time.

Mothballing allows the owner of a historic structure in our historic districts to delay full restoration of a condemned house over a time period of five years during which the home owner is save from daily fines through Code Enforcement. That, on average, gives the home owner about $250/day to invest into the restoration rather than paying the fine or having it accumulate as a lien on the property. Can you imagine having to deal with $250 rolling fines Every. Day???

The house has to be stabilized following a strict standard set forth by the Historic Preservation Committee, needs to be inspected and pass that inspection to make sure that the house is protected from the elements and safe in regard to surrounding neighbors, and be maintained and kept up during the mothballing period to prevent blight.
You know, just like we did with the Walnut Court house which got a fresh exterior paint job, had its windows securely boarded with ventilation slits, siding repairs and roof repairs and even some landscaping to make it blend right in.

No, the owner does not get a tax break. For some odd reason the "trolls" online are always concerned that somebody else is getting a free ride but this is not the case. Mothballing helps the owner to save the house and gives them somewhat of a breather, allowing for more time to work on it as time and resources allow (you can and are actually encouraged to continue to work on your house but without Code Enforcement breathing down your neck), find financing or even a buyer to undertake the restoration.

A mothballed house's renovations have to pass municipal inspections when work has been done, just like any other house. We just get exemptions from some requirements if an element is restored to its original historical state, not for electrical or plumbing.

Oh, and the owner? Guess what? Has still to pay property taxes, make mortgage payments and figure out how to deal with the fines acquired until the house was officially mothballed.

Really, trolls, no free ride, just a fighting chance to preserve the historic fabric of our town :o)

And you know what? I truly believe, I -KNOW- it is working.


If you have any questions regarding mothballing your property in our historic districts, can't reach an owner of an endangered structure, need help navigating the application process or need any help in preservation issues, feel free to contact the awesome folks at Preservation SOS
call/text: (904) 335-8SOS
facebook: PreservationSOS

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