Panel Discussion • Neighborhood Conservation Districts

 In Conservation Districts, News


On May 14, 2015, dozens of Meridian-Kessler residents gathered at the Basile Opera House in Historic Washington Park for delicious BeBop pizza and desserts before convening for a panel discussion about neighborhood conservation districts.

Paul Diebold, author of “The History and Architecture of Meridian-Kessler,” moderated the panel discussion. Panelists included David Baker, administrator of the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission (IHPC); Marsh Davis, president of Indiana Landmarks; and, Christine Freiman, realtor, interior designer and MKNA resident.

After providing an overview of historic preservation and its history in the U.S., Mr. Diebold discussed the difference between a National Register historic district (federal designation) and a locally protected historic district, as well as shared some insights on why neighborhoods pursue historic area status. Regarding local historic areas in Indianapolis, Mr. Diebold said that some neighborhoods pursue local protection as a tool to help manage change and encourage appropriate new construction and renovations (not prevent or hinder change). Locally protected historic and conservation districts typically provide a review/approval process for demolition, new construction, and additions, which can help protect property owners’ investments and increase property values.

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David Baker outlined the role of the IHPC. The Commission was established in 1967 by the Indiana State Legislature to preserve the character and fabric of historically significant areas and structures. In Marion County, there are more than 17 Indianapolis communities that have oversight by IHPC, including Chatham-Arch, Fletcher Place, Herron-Morton and the Old Northside. The IHPC also oversees conservation districts, such as Cottage Home and Ransom Place, that have fewer and less restrictive guidelines. While most people think of North Meridian Street at the mention of historic districts, the IHPC does not review changes to homes within the Meridian Street Preservation District. A separate state statute established the Meridian Street Preservation Commission, which has its own commissioners and guidelines.

Marsh Davis’ remarks focused on a study of property values in designated historic districts in comparison to similar, non-designated districts.  In all cases, the designated districts showed stronger growth in property values and other quality of life matters. He also praised Meridian-Kessler for pursuing historic district designation now. He said that often neighborhoods wait too long to pursue guidelines, and by then the neighborhoods are in decline and have faced numerous demolitions. Mr. Davis added that Meridian-Kessler is a strong neighborhood, and establishing guidelines now will ensure the character of the area is preserved for years to come.

As a realtor, Christine Freiman brought a unique perspective to the panel. As most have heard before, the three factors that affect property values are “location, location, location.” But Ms. Freiman contended that a good location means proximity, amenities and character. Meridian-Kessler is fortunate to have all three of these components, but taking away just one of these three aspects negatively affects property values. To illustrate her point, Ms. Freiman offered two comparisons. Carmel has good proximity to places to work and play. It is also filled with amenities, many of which are walkable, but it lacks consistency and the depth of character that MKNA has. Thus, the average price per square foot of 3 and 4 bedroom homes that sold near downtown Carmel in the past 60 days was $116. For Meridian Kessler, it was $157.  For Geist, which has the reservoir for recreation, but lacks a central location and unique character of older homes, the price per square foot was $117.

Ms. Freiman added that the character of Meridian-Kessler is its greatest asset, and it is not something property owners can take for granted. Each time a home is torn down or a substantial addition or alteration is made without regard to existing character, the neighborhood’s unique character erodes. If enough of this change happens, the neighborhood begins to look generic. One way to prevent this is by protecting neighborhoods with a historic designation or a conservation district. Studies of property values across the U.S. consistently demonstrate that houses in historic districts have higher property values than their counterparts outside historic districts.

For more information about historic preservation districts, please refer to the presentation prepared by Mr. Diebold.

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