Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Post 24: The property owners, false worries

As always, with the exception of public figures, I use altered names to protect the individuals in this history.

 Late in the process, after the first restructuring of CWG, local property owners joined CWG. They were concerned initially that CWG would support the BID that Wellington, the ED of Chinatown Partnership, was promoting. As there was no discussion of the BID at CWG, their worries turned to the possibility the CWG would propose a historical landmark districting. This was a reasonable worry, since the Cultural and Historical Preservation Committee of the CWG was in fact drawing up a landmarking proposal. I will post their presentation on the historic buildings in Chinatown separately, not because it is essential to the history of CWG, but because it shows the depth and breadth of CWG committee work, because it contains lots of valuable information about the neighborhood context, and because, having designed it, I'm fond of it and would like more viewers to appreciate it. :-) None of its recommendations were adopted by CWG for reasons I will explain. 

Hearing the concerns of the property owners, I thought I should learn more about them to understand their circumstances better. Ian (I've altered the name), the property owners' representative at CWG, and John (I've altered the name), a well-known activist in Chinatown and a property owner himself, arranged a meeting with the group in which they expressed their concerns again about the BID and the possibility of a landmarking. I, in turn, explained the constraints of landmarking on owners and the limits of those constraints. John repeated his prediction or warning that if Chinatown was designated a historical district, the burden of it would be too great for the small landlords, they would sell their properties and the result would be rampant displacement of tenants, since it's the Chinese local landlords that have anchored the Chinatown community. 

John's warning was entirely rhetorical and illogical, since the the market logic leans in the opposite direction. If a small landlord has a building which can be developed, the landlord has an incentive to sell to a developer for a high price. But if the building is landmarked, by law it cannot be demolished and redeveloped so no developer will buy the building. So landmarking implies the the current landlord will be stuck with the property. 

Not long after this first meeting, we met again. At this meeting, persuaded that landmarking would be an excessive burden to the small landlords, I promised them that I would do all I could to prevent a broad historical landmarking district as part the CWG plan. The final CWG reflects this promise. It allows modest room for development of one or two additional stories, not enough to demolish and redevelop. Demolition & redevelopment requires significant capital investment. The CWG plan allowed only enough to add a story or two to a current structure, which requires far less financing and more likely to be within the reach of the current landlord. In other words, to keep the current landlords in place, the CWG plan gives landlords a bit of room to expand for more rent revenue but not enough to attract an outside developer to buy out the local landlord, evict current renters, demolish the premises and build a giant hotel. 

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