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.