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Thread: Administrative approval of historic certificates for small/certain projects?

  1. #1
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Administrative approval of historic certificates for small/certain projects?

    I am in the process of drafting Design Guidelines for our historic district. In the process of holding meetings, etc., I've heard a significant amount of frustration from business and property owners about the length of time the Certificate of Appropriateness process takes (up to 45 days). This issue has become particularly heated for sign approvals on businesses and minor alterations like handicapped ramps on residences of elderly folks. In regards to signs, the Commission has been prone to allowing their personal taste to dictate, resulting in lengthy delays in approval (worst I found was about 6 months with them going back & forth at each monthly meeting). Having written design guidelines should help stop this practice. However, I tend to view Commission review of signs and other small projects as unnecessary if proper standards are put in place. This is especially true for signs, since I tend to consider them more temporary and not affecting historic integrity--plus even the best business owners tend to leave the sign until last as they prepare to open. This would allow historic preservation goals to be met while expediting the process.

    Surely other larger preservation programs have had to come up with some type of solution to keep from getting bogged down in small projects. I'd love to hear suggestions.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  2. #2
    It might be easier to start from a standpoint of what staff cannot do, rather than what they can.

    Indiana statute prohibits staff from approving COAs for demolition of a building, structure, or site; moving of a building or structure (into or out of a historic district); and, any new construction (addition or completely new structure). Our Commission has granted staff authority to issue COAs for sign face-out changes, but not new signs, for example. Staff can issue COA for repainting, if prep work won't require significant siding replacement, and so forth. My Commission sounds like yours, though, as they only give up control grudgingly.

    Good luck!
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
    "Once he timed your fastball, your infielders were in jeopardy."
    Warren Spahn

  3. #3
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    SR-

    I have lots of experience in this area and no, we don't have a Commission for our district, but we do have a County HP commission for the landmark-designated properties. I won't go through the details of how it is set up... but a few ideas:

    -Look into an adaptive (re)use ordinance. When more businesses were starting to move into previously residential structures this was a solution that all of our residents liked. We crafted an ordinance 2 years ago that has been great so far.
    -Have staff/minor COAs and Commission/major COAs
    -Design guidelines for sites, including, lighting, signs, access, etc (can be done in an adaptivie (re)use ordinance)
    -Use a zoning overlay to administer possibly instead of a Historic District Commission (Big Idea!)

    PM me and I'll send you and email with more detailed info.
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  4. #4
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by beach_bum View post
    SR-

    I have lots of experience in this area and no, we don't have a Commission for our district, but we do have a County HP commission for the landmark-designated properties. I won't go through the details of how it is set up... but a few ideas:

    -Look into an adaptive (re)use ordinance. When more businesses were starting to move into previously residential structures this was a solution that all of our residents liked. We crafted an ordinance 2 years ago that has been great so far.
    -Have staff/minor COAs and Commission/major COAs
    -Design guidelines for sites, including, lighting, signs, access, etc (can be done in an adaptivie (re)use ordinance)
    -Use a zoning overlay to administer possibly instead of a Historic District Commission (Big Idea!)

    PM me and I'll send you and email with more detailed info.
    Adaptive reuse is a sticky issue that I'll be tackling separately down the road...

    I am interested in creating a split minor/major COA process. I'll be PMing you about that.

    I'm writing our design guidelines right now, which is part of why I'm taking the opportunity to fix a few things like this. This city has had a historic overlay district for about seven years, but didn't adopt local design guidelines. In fact, I'm their first historic preservation officer. As a result, their decisions were all over the place and highly arbitrary. Some key ordinance revisions along with a complete set of design guidelines should help this. Our Historic Preservation Commission hears applications for Certificates of Appropriateness for site modifications and exterior alterations.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  5. #5
    Cyburbian dw914er's avatar
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    We have sort of a minor/major COA type process. We refer to the minor COA's as a waiver, and it basically allows staff to administratively approve any minor alterations, restorations, rehabilitations, remodeling and additions to our Historical Resources as long as those changes are determined to be in accordance to our guidelines (which is built from the Secretary of the Interior's standards). The things we can permit include roofing, foundation improvements, chiminey improvements, alterations of fences, landscaping (unless the landscape was also a part of the designation), and signs. The only thing is that the materials used must be approved (i.e. they create no change to the appearance and/or are period correct). We also can permit additons under 500 square feet and accessory structures, provided that either example is not visable from the right of way. Everything else is reviewed by the Historical Preservation Comission, but this certainly helps to expedite the process. You brought up an issue with commission review of signs, which is something we review relatively often.

    If you want or need more details, PM me I'll help out.
    And that concludes staff’s presentation...

  6. #6
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by dw914er View post
    We have sort of a minor/major COA type process. We refer to the minor COA's as a waiver, and it basically allows staff to administratively approve any minor alterations, restorations, rehabilitations, remodeling and additions to our Historical Resources as long as those changes are determined to be in accordance to our guidelines (which is built from the Secretary of the Interior's standards). The things we can permit include roofing, foundation improvements, chiminey improvements, alterations of fences, landscaping (unless the landscape was also a part of the designation), and signs. The only thing is that the materials used must be approved (i.e. they create no change to the appearance and/or are period correct). We also can permit additons under 500 square feet and accessory structures, provided that either example is not visable from the right of way. Everything else is reviewed by the Historical Preservation Comission, but this certainly helps to expedite the process. You brought up an issue with commission review of signs, which is something we review relatively often.

    If you want or need more details, PM me I'll help out.
    That's about the same here - administrative approvals for minor classes of work, ie reshingling an ashpalt roof with ashphalt shingles. I'll PM you the our list.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Staff level COAs can be great if the process of what can be approved by staff is very clear which, as you seem to already know, is definitely tied to clear design guidelines. We recently had our guidelines revised to offer much more detail and included within each topic a box with what kinds of projects were considered maintenance not needing a COA, which could apply for staff level COA, and which had to go before the board. We are only two months past the approval so I haven't had too much comment from the public on how they are working but I feel a lot more comfortable as staff approving the minor COAs when I have clear guidelines in place. Since the guidelines were approved by the boards they have basically signed off in advance on certain types of projects, usually those like signs, fences, etc. with the least chance of permanently affecting the character. You can always start small with what can be approved at staff level and add to the list later when the comfort level is better. One thing that we do is include a memo with a list of each staff level COA approved since the last meeting in our agenda packets for the board, so they knows what has been approved and are given an opportunity to ask about it.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Plus Salmissra's avatar
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    Dallas has a great administrative approval process! Basically, if the request falls into any of 14 categories, then staff can approve it. Any request that does not meet the criteria goes to Landmark Commission. We have over 118 historic districts - some are a single building, our largest has over 800 properties - so requests have to meet the district's requirements, as well. The majority of our requests are for what we call routine maintenance, and those are staff items.

    For signs, a new sign goes to our Landmark Commission, but afterwards, only changes of size, location on the building, etc need to go back to the Commission. Changing out a tenant logo or text does not have to go back to the Commission.

    PM me and I'll point you to the section in our Code, and can also let you know where we do have a few problems.
    "We do not need any other Tutankhamun's tomb with all its treasures. We need context. We need understanding. We need knowledge of historical events to tie them together. We don't know much. Of course we know a lot, but it is context that's missing, not treasures." - Werner Herzog, in Archaeology, March/April 2011

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Suburb Repairman View post
    I am in the process of drafting Design Guidelines for our historic district. In the process of holding meetings, etc., I've heard a significant amount of frustration from business and property owners about the length of time the Certificate of Appropriateness process takes (up to 45 days). This issue has become particularly heated for sign approvals on businesses and minor alterations like handicapped ramps on residences of elderly folks. In regards to signs, the Commission has been prone to allowing their personal taste to dictate, resulting in lengthy delays in approval (worst I found was about 6 months with them going back & forth at each monthly meeting). Having written design guidelines should help stop this practice. However, I tend to view Commission review of signs and other small projects as unnecessary if proper standards are put in place. This is especially true for signs, since I tend to consider them more temporary and not affecting historic integrity--plus even the best business owners tend to leave the sign until last as they prepare to open. This would allow historic preservation goals to be met while expediting the process.

    Surely other larger preservation programs have had to come up with some type of solution to keep from getting bogged down in small projects. I'd love to hear suggestions.
    1. if there are standards tied to fuzzy language such as "appropriate" or "context sensitive" or worse "good," try to tie these in a definition section to concrete standards that are objective because measurable. That'll prevent legal complications down the line and save time for the applicants.

    2. Portland, ME allows admin approval of smaller projects with coa, as I imagine many other cities do too. Perhaps calling their dept. of planning could help. It's a small city so they should be easy to connect with.

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