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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Living history

With eminent domain, your property is taken outright."Historic preservation" lets you keep it -- you just can't do anything with it. In a way, it's even more harmful to the concept of private property. People don't get outraged at "preserving history," and nobody, after all, is really "losing" anything:

Scott Greider, a New York architect who grew up in Fort Wayne, is coming home.

He's moving to downtown Fort Wayne, where he would like to save a historic but crumbling former retail strip along the 1000 block of Broadway.

But St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, which shares the block, owns three of the five buildings in question between West Washington and West Jefferson boulevards. The church wants to expand and might raze the two-story structures to do so.

Enter the Fort Wayne Historic Preservation Commission, which is considering them for local historic status. That would prevent the church, or any future owners, from changing or demolishing the buildings without the board's blessing.

[. . .]

Greider realizes the church has expansion plans, and that his efforts to save the buildings could put them at odds.

“I want urban churches to grow and prosper,” Greider said. “That mission comes up against another equally

Posted in: Our town


Tue, 04/17/2007 - 5:42am

I sympathize with the church, and with your argument. But. Let's say the Louvre put the "Mona Lisa" up for sale. The richest man in the world--Bill Gates--announced that he'd spend whatever amount of money he had to spend to be the winning bidder. Gates buys the painting and promptly anounces he bought the "Mona Lisa" so he could have the pleasure of destroying the painting by fire. Okay, since Gates owns the painting, he's free to do whatever he wants with it, according to libertarian political theory. But something's wrong with libertarian political theory then. The "Mona Lisa" is an important part of humanity's cultural heritage. It would be a crime, if not a violation of libertarian political theory, to allow Gates to detroy the "Mona Lisa".

Now obviously I'm not arguing that those buildings on Broadway are as important to our cultural heritage as the "Mona Lisa." But they *are* important to Fort Wayne's cultural heritage, and to allow a church or anyone else to knock them over would be a crime against Fort Wayne and the citizens of Fort Wayne. If that means we have to violate libertarian political theory, then so be it.

Tue, 04/17/2007 - 7:59am

Free translation of the above comment: "we want what we want, and be damned to any sort of consistent political philosophy."

Tue, 04/17/2007 - 9:06am

It's not true, as you caricaturized my statement, that we "want what we want and be damned to any sort of consistent political philosophy."

It's just that it's necessary for any society to take into account competing interests, including property-rights interests, but also other interests which sometimes conflict with property rights, while libertarians conveniently omit those other interests (they call them externalities) from their property-rights equations.

As it is, we do not live in a libertarian society. You do *not* have a right to do whatever it is you want to do with your property. Buy some land in a residential area and try to open a liquor store or pawn shop, or a junk yard. Unless the property is zoned for certain commercial activities already, or you convince the zoning board to change the zoning, you will not be allowed to run your business on your property. You own the property and yet the muncipality forbids you to use it in the manner you have chosen. According to Bartleby and libertarians, that's some sort of tyranny. Most of us? It's a trade-off we'll gladly make, in order not to have a junk yard go in next door to our homes.

Tue, 04/17/2007 - 12:00pm


Funny, when Ryan Lengerich interviewed me for his story, I actually paused before going on record and thought to myself, "I need to be careful what I say, because it'll probably end up on Leo's blog." Hmmm...

Leo, you raise some interesting points, and the property rights discussion is a good one to have (even though FW tends to have it until she's blue in the face!). But I do think you painted it black and white, when it really needs to be gray. Barry did a great job illustrating this, but I'd like to add a little, too.

In any non-libertarian anarchist society (arguably, all that have ever existed), regulations on property rights always exist to some degree and should really be viewed not as always bad or always good, but rather as sometimes appropriate and sometimes not. And as Barry suggested, some properties should without question have more regulations placed on them than should others. Most people would see that as very reasonable.

FW has agreed that she doesn't want to be a city where abandoned cars can sit in residential yards (enter private property regulations). Historic designation is the same thing: FW agreeing that she doesn't want to be a city without any historically significant buildings (enter private property regulations). Conceptually, they're the same thing. The degree of effort necessary to comply may differ, but the concept is the same. So unless FW wants to throw out all codes, zoning regulations, etc. she needs to see this issue through gray-colored glasses.

Re: your specific comments:

"'Historic preservation' lets you keep it -- you just can't do anything with it." - Not true. You can do many things with it, just not anything you want. Again, only different than any other property by degree, not principle.

"nobody, after all, is really 'losing' anything" - You're right on this one. The property owner is losing something (not truly libertarian), but not everything.(not truly socialist, either).

"It's nice that he has some sympathy for the church. Is he willing to help the church find the chance to grow and prosper some other way since he is taking from it the most obvious way? Preserving historic structures is important, but how do you weigh that value against a planned productive use for that space? ...And somebody owns the buildings and has plans for them." - I do love urban churches! I hope to join one myself when we return. But I guarantee my purchasing of 1010 is not taking away St. John's ability to grow and prosper. They knew this property was on the market, and if they were already bursting at the seams and financially capable, they would have bought it themselves (surprisingly, neither the Realtor nor the previous owner even received a phone call from them!), just like they bought the one to the north in 2003. (And you should know, 1010 was significantly less than that one.) But if they couldn't afford this property now, how on earth could they be contemplating, let alone afford, a multi-million dollar building expansion? No, from my conversations with church reps, which, by the way, have been remarkably pleasant and civil, the only thing they are currently interested in and able to afford is razing the old buildings. That's it! They told me directly that they have no current need, plans, or financial ability to build now or in the near future. Rather, they're main desire is to "have better control over their destiny". But tell me, Leo, do you have some other knowledge of their "planned productive use for that space"?

"The history we are making -- expansion of an urban church -- I submit is just as important as the history we would remember." - Again, I know of no plans for expansion of St. John's. But even if there were, I might still disagree with your comparative analysis, as would many others in the community and FW.

"care better be taken not to give ordinary people the idea that they have lost control of their city..." - I don't even know how to address this type of exaggeration. But as a question, do you think historic landmarking in general accomplishes this belief, or just this particular designation that would do so?

"...people who think they know best and just aren't going to listen." - Without addressing your overwhelming cynicism, I will tell you that though I and many others do think it better to preserve these building than raze them, we certainly wouldn't stand in the way if the City (citizens and elected officials) decided otherwise. If the church prevails in thwarting designation, so be it.

As I said in the article, I've seen landmarking both help and hurt communities. As such, sometimes I favor it, sometimes I don't. And I believe I can do both from a principled position. Why I have agreed to favor it in this case (remember, I didn't initiate it, the HPC called me out of the blue!) is because when it comes to losing historic structures, FW has seen enough. I don't know anybody who's happy with what's been lost. On the contrary, most grieve it. So let's just have the discussion, at least. Let's present the arguments. And which ever side prevails, I sincerely hope the other doesn't feel it's lost control of its city.

PS - Leo, do you really blog at 5:22AM?! That explains a ton. Who wouldn't be jaded at that ungodly hour?!

Charlotte A. Weybright
Wed, 04/18/2007 - 2:20am


Ask yourself why St. John's has allowed its buildings to fall into disrepair. They are eyesores at this point, and the reason is that if they get bad enough, well then the only thing to do is to tear them down.

When you talk about property interests, part of that argument should include the notion that property owners should be responsible for the upkeep of their property. Simply standing back and watching property deteriorate to further a larger goal of tearing down is not good stewardship.