Saturday, October 22, 2005

Getting the Lead Out of the Historic Districts?

My friend David Hoggard, who restores old double-hung windows for a living (and does a damned good job of it), thinks that a proposed new lead paint abatement law might put a dent in his business and run headlong into -- and right through -- Greensboro's historic district preservation guidelines.

Here's where they collide: sometimes you can't get enough of the leached-in lead out of old woodwork, especially windows, to satisfy federal guidelines, even if you strip it to the bare wood and repaint it well. At that point, you have to rip out the old, lead-laden windows and replace them.

But Greensboro's historic district design guidelines say "removal of historic materials shall be avoided."

Of course in such cases, the lead-abatement law wins. Kids' health trumps historic windows every time, and I can't imagine Greensboro's Historic District Commission thinking otherwise for even a second.

But I don't actually think the new law will result in the removal of many windows from houses in Greensboro's established historic districts.

That's because the point of contact between the lead-abatement law and historic houses is in the circulatory system of young children: the county will only come to check your house if high lead levels are detected in you toddler's blood.

But the small kids who live in Fisher Park, Aycock, and College Hill are very unlikely to have been munching lead paint chips, because their parents are mostly affluent preservationists who tend to keep their woodwork well maintained and keep their kids from eating it. The same goes for wealthier old neighborhoods like Sunset Hills, Westerwood, and Old Irving Park, which are chock full o' lead paint and perfectly healthy, non-brain-damaged kids.

The law probably will impact poorer neighborhoods built in the mid-20th century where homeowners and landlords aren't maintaining their woodwork as well, in homes where kids aren't being closely supervised.

And if the proposed law will help those kids, I'm for it.

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