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Spruce Hill District

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Frequently Asked



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



If the historical commission makes decisions about repairs and it doesn't include people from the community, how does designation give the community more power as the architect claimed earlier?
All of the meetings held by the Commission are open to the public. Community groups are invited and encouraged to attend and comment on projects before the Commission - this gives the community another voice on development. Many community groups that are part of historic districts come to the Commission regularly and comment on proposals.

Advocates of the proposal have said that it will enable them to go through town and notify the PHC when they see something they don't like. There's a tremendous potential for abuse here, where the advocates have a great deal of power. Is there any guarantee that the PHC would not allow this abuse of power?
If a neighbor reports work being done without a permit, the staff of the Commission will verify that work is indeed being done before a formal enforcement process is implemented.

What safeguards exist to prevent abuse of the historic district system? Example, there are many examples of neighbors targeting each other for personal reasons and using historic district or L&I as tools to harass. What recourse would a property owner have against repeated, capricious or malicious reporting of possible infractions? Furthermore, what safeguards exist against caprice or (by some measure) excessive strictness of individual members of the board in making a permitting decision? (the common example is of a new member who happens to be particularly fond of a color scheme and uses new influence to enforce unduly strict rules.) (another example is of contemporary murals to combat graffiti or for artistic reasons).
The Historical Commission has 14 members who generally check and balance each other. One rogue Commission member cannot control all of the decisions of the Commission. Since approximately 85% of all permits are approved at the staff level, a report is created each month outlining the approvals, listing them by address. If a neighborhood thinks that the staff is arbitrary in its procedures, it may appeal to the Commission to investigate. All decisions of the Historical Commission can be appealed to the Board of License and Inspection Review.

In the past the Historical Commission seems to have "caved in" to allow variances for "important" people even in historic Ritt-Fitt. In particular, the owners of the McIlheany building received a variance despite neighbors protest on the noticeable rood structure. Why is this? Are certain structural changes acceptable?
The Historical Commission tries very hard to be objective. The Commission only reviews proposals in the context of how they will affect the historic structure. Sometimes residents oppose a project for other reasons. In the case of the McIlhenny house: the owner wished to demolish a 1950s addition and build a four-story addition to a four-story house. The proposed addition is in keeping with the streetscape of the block. Some people argued that the 1950s addition had gained historic significance in its own right and should've been kept. The Commission weighed that argument, but found the restoration of the street wall to be a stronger argument.

The rules of the Historic Commission have shown to be porous. What assurance do we have that influential groups or individuals will be permitted to bypass the rules?
The Historical Commission strives to be as objective as possible. To ensure that it is, get involved with the procedures, come to Commission meetings and voice your opinions.

Isn't controlling what someone does to the outside of their building a "partial taking" of private property for a supposed "public good?" and Doesn't the 5th Amendment require "due process' and "just compensation for this to happen?
No. Court cases at the state and federal level have consistently stated that historic preservation is a valid planning tool that municipalities may use to control development.

When the PHC says it will be more "lenient" about permits for non contributing buildings, doesn't their own choice of terms send a message about their own choice of terms and send a message about the HC's approach?
When the Historical Commission reviews applications for "non-contributing" buildings, it looks to see how the changes will affect the overall district. A "non-contributing" building does not have any historic fabric to preserve, so the Commission may approve more drastic changes than for a "contributing" building.

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
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