Munjoy Hill Historic District? Rats, there goes my fantasy of painting our building parfait pink. Imagine: two responsible seniors and longtime property owners now having to ask for permission to repair and improve their building’s exterior. Perhaps there is a greater common good here, but cynicism about the process leaves me doubtful.

The Munjoy Hill I moved to years ago was a “live and let live” sort of place; everyone welcome. The modern designs and fanciful renovations that have popped up indicate renewed life on the Hill.

Then a “We Know What’s Best for You” movement emerged; the failed scenic view initiative was just the opening act. Barely a year ago, the city created a conservation overlay district covering most of the Hill, aiming to protect buildings older than 1930. Seems to be doing the job of slowing demolitions and encouraging compatible design. Indeed, it was sold to the neighborhood as “historic district lite.”

So why up the ante with even more restrictions? Much of Munjoy Hill was developed a century ago, but it has never stopped changing. The neighborhood endured mid-20th century disdain for Victorian design, urban renewal’s spot demolitions and demands for denser housing. Garden apartments, high rises and townhouses appeared at the neighborhood’s edges. Sprinkle in a few modular homes; you name it, we’ve got it.

Why, after decades of lack of interest by preservationists, anoint historic status on their preferred parts of the Hill when it’s the continuity of building right up to the present that accurately tells Munjoy’s story of accommodation and resilience? Has application of the local preservation ordinance adopted 30 years ago morphed into a tool used to stymie development? If I could vote on this proposal, then my faith in common-sense majority rule might assuage my skepticism. Otherwise, no.

Elizabeth Miller


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