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Spruce Hill Historic District
Spruce Hill Historic District Progress Report

 

After many years of delay, the nomination to place Spruce Hill on the City of Philadelphia's Register of Historic Places is again moving forward. In the coming months, UCHS will keep you informed of the nomination's progress and notify you of informational meetings. In the meantime, below are some answers to frequently asked questions about Philadelphia Historic Districts. If you have any other questions, please e-mail UCHS.

What is the Spruce Hill Historic District?
It is a proposed Philadelphia Historic District shown in the map at right (click here for a larger version). The boundaries were determined by the Philadelphia Historical Commission based on the area's historical development, and are subject to change during the review process. First proposed over 15 years ago, a final nomination for the district is currently being prepared.

Who is sponsoring the nomination?
The University City Historical Society, the Spruce Hill Community Association, and the Spruce Hill Community Trust are working to prepare the nomination for the district.

What is a Philadelphia Historic District?
A Philadelphia Historic District is a distinctive area of the City that possesses a significant collection of buildings, structures, sites or objects-united by past events, physical development or architecture. The Philadelphia Historical Commission, under the City's Historic Preservation Ordinance, Section 14-2007 of the Philadelphia Code, enters districts on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. Listing on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places recognizes and protects the special architectural and historic character of the district.

What advantages does an historic district bring?
The creation of an historic district does not stop change. History, after all, is a continuing process. Rather, designation provides a mechanism to maintain the basic physical and visual character of a district. Many cities, including New Orleans, Charleston, Savannah, New York, Boston and Baltimore, as well as many smaller municipalities in Pennsylvania, have adopted historic districting successfully as parts of their planning, economic development and historic preservation programs. Studies demonstrate that local historic districts contribute to the stabilization of property values, the retention of an area's fabric and the fostering of community pride. In addition, the owners of income-producing buildings in a Philadelphia Historic District may be eligible for federal investment tax credits for rehabilitation projects, and community-based organizations may qualify for some grant programs.

How is a Philadelphia Historic District created?
Working with local community and historic preservation groups, the Historic Designation Committee of the Commission undertakes a preliminary review of an area's significance and of the boundaries that reflect that significance. After that determination, a nomination is prepared that contains a description of the characteristics of the potential district, its significance, an evaluative inventory listing, for every property in the district, photographs and a map. A community group, a preservation organization, or a person on the Commission staff may write a nomination.

Upon the completion of this work, the Commission schedules public hearings to consider the nomination and to determine whether the proposed district meets the criteria for designation provided in the Ordinance. At least sixty (60) days before the hearings, every owner receives written notice of the hearings, notices are posted in the neighborhood, and a notice appears in the newspaper. The Commission holds several sessions to receive public testimony and comment on the proposed district. At least one of these sessions takes place during the evening in the neighborhood. In addition, interested persons may submit written comments on the proposed district. Finally, the Commission will vote to designate-or not to designate-the district as historic.

How does designation protect the character of a district?
The Department of Licenses and Inspections refers all building and demolition permit applications for historic properties to the Commission for review and will not issue a permit without the Commission's approval. The Commission regulates only the exterior appearance of a building, including window and sash replacement, masonry painting and cleaning and pointing. It does not exercise its jurisdiction over the painting of trim. The staff approves permit applications immediately for interior work that does not affect the exterior.

To secure a demolition permit, an applicant must show either financial hardship owing to the property's lack of reasonable economic value, or that demolition is in the public interest.

What is the review process in a Philadelphia Historic District?
The staff conducts routine reviews of plans and permit applications. In recent years, the staff has approved more than eighty-five percent (85%) of the applications on the day of submission. More extensive work requires evaluation by the Architectural Committee, which meets monthly in public, and approval by the Commission, which also holds monthly public meetings. The Committee consists of architects, a structural engineer and a builder with knowledge and experience in the appropriate and economic treatment of historic resources.

What guidelines does the Philadelphia Historical Commission use?
The Commission uses the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties with Guidelines for Preserving, Rehabilitating, Restoring and Reconstructing Historic Buildings. Federal, state and local agencies, as well as private organizations, throughout the country have adopted the Secretary's Standards. The Commission's primary concerns are mass, height, appearance, texture, color, the nature and composition of materials, and visibility from a public right-of-way.

Can the Philadelphia Historical Commission require the restoration of a building?
No. The Commission works with existing conditions. Its review extends only to the scope of work an owner chooses to perform. However, in the event that an owner allows a building to fall into such disrepair as to pose the threat of demolition by neglect, the Commission may request the Department of Licenses and Inspections to order the building, repaired, not restored. The Department has this authority over all buildings in the City under other provisions of the Philadelphia Code.

Can an owner appeal the decision of the Philadelphia Historical Commission on a permit?
An owner who is dissatisfied with a Commission decision may appeal to the Board of License and Inspection Review. Usually, however, an owner can avoid a rejection of plans by consulting with the Commission's staff early in the design development process.

Does the Philadelphia Historical Commission regulate the use of a building?
No. The regulation of use is a function of zoning, not historic preservation.

Does historic designation affect the tax assessment?
No. Historic designation is not a factor in the assessment of property by the Board of Revision of Taxes and will not result in higher taxes.

Copies of Philadelphia's Historic Preservation Ordinance, the Commission's Rules and Regulations, and the Secretary of the Interior's Standards may be obtained from the Philadelphia Historical Commission. The Philadelphia Historic Preservation Ordinance can also be found here. The Secretary of the Interior's Standards can be found here.

For more information, contact:

Philadelphia Historical Commission
576 City Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19102
Telephone: 215 686-7660
Fax: 215 688-7674
Spruce Hill Community Association
257 S. 45th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Telephone: 215 349-7825
E-mail: shca@sprucehillca.org
University City Historical Society
P.O. Box 31927
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Telephone: 215 387-3019
E-mail: info@uchs.net