About The
Spruce Hill District

About Philadelphia
Historic Districts


Further Reading

Frequently Asked



Spruce Hill Historic District
Questions Asked At The April 24 Public Meeting



I am opposed to this. What are the laws regarding not going through the Historic Commission to get work done?
Just like any other work that requires a building permit, the Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I) enforces the law regarding permits. If a property owner should do work without a permit or Historical Commission approval, then L&I will issue a violation. If that violation is not cured, then the property owner may face fines and court appearances.

Do appeals to the Historic District cost anything?
The Historical Commission does not charge for any service.

What if someone replaces a broken original doorknob with a new keyed-entry self-locking security device without permission? Will they get a $3,000 fine from L&I?
The Historical Commission does not regulate locks or security systems.

If work is done without obtaining approval, what are the consequences?
The Department of Licenses and Inspections will issue a violation. If that violation is not cured, then the property owner may face fines and court appearances.

How will historic district designation prevent what the UCHS showed on their poster in any way that's not already covered by zoning or other existing laws?
The Zoning code regulates general development in an area with restrictions on height, occupancy of land and square footage. Building codes ensure that buildings have sound roofs, windows, and structurally sound walls. None of these laws examine the historic nature of a building. Removing porches, installing aluminum siding, stuccoing over ornate brickwork, paving front gardens to make a parking pad - all of these are only regulated if a property is in the jurisdiction of the Historical Commission.

You (Laura) said that 19 applications were denied most for unauthorized work. How did the violations come to the attention of the historic commission? What were the penalties? What is the worst case penalty?
The Historical Commission finds out about violations in a number of ways. Sometimes a member of the Commission staff sees a violation while out on routine site visits. An inspector from L&I may also see violations. Sometimes, a neighbor calls the Commission to report work being done. Again, if work is performed without a permit or Commission approval, the property owner may face fines and court appearances. The amount of the fine depends on the work performed and if the owner shows good faith to correct the violation.

If the Commission has approved a change for a building, how does the Commission verify that changes were made according to the "approved" method? Inspections? IN what time interval? By what agency? And if a non-confirming use is done, what then?
The Commission staff may do a follow-up inspection to verify if the work performed is indeed the work approved. L&I inspectors may also perform an inspection.

What is your enforcement mechanism? I know that permits can be denied but for work that does not require a permit but is deemed unacceptable, what happens? A fine?
All work that requires approval from the Historical Commission or requires a building permit under other parts of the City's building code is subject to enforcement.

PHC says its policy is not to regulate color of paint or trim. But the preservation ordinance says no person can alter a building without approval. And alter is defined as any change in appearance. Can't commission change its "policy" and dictate color wherever it wants?
Under Section 6.2.b of its Rules and Regulations, the Commission does not regulate the color of trim. It can change this only after notice, review by the Law Department, the Administrative Board and the Historical Commission in a public meeting.

Does the Historical Commission have authority in the regulation of population density? What if a (sleazy) landlord with our without permission want to cram 15 to 20 tenants (students) to a building which may create damage to the historical exterior along with parking problems?
The Commission does not regulate use. That is a zoning issue.

What is the procedure followed for work done without obtaining proper permits? Is the homeowner fined? Would the work have to be re-done? Would a permit after the fact automatically be denied or would the PHC review the work done and render approval/denial based on the work?
If an owner does work without a permit, then he/she must reapply to the Commission to legalize the work. Sometimes the revised work is approved; sometimes the Commission asks for changes to be made. Work performed without a permit, may result in a violation and fines.

Does the historic district status give better tools to get our irresponsible neighbors to repair their roofs, etc. that affect my neighboring property? or is L&I still the only game in town?
Historic preservation is a planning tool for a neighborhood to use to regulate development and the overall integrity of an area. If a property owner allows his building to deteriorate to a point where it proves dangerous, especially to neighboring buildings, the historic preservation code allows for the enforcement of repairs.

Don't the strict requirements for even the smallest repair jobs make it possible for people to "report" neighbors who they don't like or whose personal preferences differ from theirs?
The Historical Commission does not regulate the average maintenance or repair to a property. It's only when the repair includes some replacement, or if an entire element is replaced, removed or added that the Historical Commission reviews the work. If a neighbor calls the Commission about work being performed, the staff of the Commission will verify that work is indeed being done before a formal enforcement process is implemented.

How have the requirements for restorations/rehab changed since this block was certified historic in 1965-67 (4100 Pine Street)? How would the proposed district be different from this block?
If a property already appears on the Philadelphia Register, then becoming part of a historic district will not change the status of the property. The permit process remains the same.

I've asked the PHC about things like windows and roof and I've gotten very different answers each time. And none of these answers match what the SHCA or the UCHS say. A frequent answer was "that would be considered on a case by case basis." Doesn't that show that the PHC's decisions are a little arbitrary?
"Case by case basis" means that each property is different and may have different requirements. A brick Federal style hospital in Society Hill is very different than a Classical Revival style library in Girard Estate, which is different from Queen Anne style twin in West Philadelphia. Each of these properties has a different roofing materials, different window styles, different wall treatments, different settings, etc. The Standards that the Commission follows must be elastic enough to fit each of these instances. However, the overall requirements and permit process is the same for each property.

Why isn't there a notification program? I bought my house (which is designated) in 1995. I didn't even know that my house was designated until I had some brick repairs done. I received a violation. Yet in the last seven years, I have seen dozens of illegal exterior projects that have not received violations. I estimate that less than 10% of illegal projects have been issued violations. If you can't regulate one street, how will you regulate a whole neighborhood? If CVS sends me coupons the week after buying my house, why can't the historic commission do the same?
The Historical Commission recognizes that notification is a problem and is working with the Department of Records and the Department of Licenses and Inspections to solve it.

If this area becomes a district and I refuse to comply, what will happen to me? If ¼ of the owners refuse what will happen? If I refuse to pay a fine, will my wages be garnished? Will any jail time be given?
If a property owner refuses to pay fines he/she may be called to appear in court. The court will establish any fine imposed.

Many of these questions address very specific situations. Without knowing the subject property's address or having photographs showing the existing conditions, it is difficult to give answers that take into account every instance that may occur on every building. If you have any follow-up questions, please do not hesitate to contact the Historical Commission directly at 215-686-7660.

The questions were grouped into broad categories. Click the category to see that group of questions and answers.

Technical | Building Permit Application Process | Designation Process
Enforcement | Tax Incentives & Economic Hardship | Impact
Neighborhood Transformation Initiative | University of Pennsylvania
Ethics | Comment
return to April 24 Meeting Questions start page