If there is one thing known worldwide about New Orleans, it’s the French Quarter. And people with long memories know it could have been ruined by development over the years without regard to its historic character.
Easily forgotten are the epic battles of the 1940s into the 1970s about preserving the Vieux Carre. Its survival was one of the great victories of the preservation movement in the United States.
On a smaller scale, and only after years of demolitions, Baton Rouge is facing similar battles. A flashpoint has been the duel between developer Richard Preis and the Spanish Town neighborhood famous for its architectural heritage.
Better late than never, Baton Rouge’s Historic Preservation Commission is in place to keep Spanish Town and Drehr Place in the Garden District from becoming overwhelmed by development. But after a clash with Preis over a tree removed from his property, the commission is being characterized as nitpickers infringing on property rights.
As with other Southern cities, the outcry against preservation regulations in Baton Rouge marches with the value of properties to large-scale developers; this is not about light fixtures or small issues that might arise in a historic neighborhood.
We don’t want to see preservation rolled politically in city hall by rhetoric against regulation, all too familiar in other historic neighborhoods battles. We do not object to a review of the historic commission’s rules and role.
A proposed suspension of its main power over development — certificates of appropriateness for changes to historic structures — seems a stretch. After all, both neighborhoods petitioned for historic status and design guidelines are central to that function.
Too much has been lost in Baton Rouge to allow unregulated development in particularly sensitive places.