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

 

Impact

For Laura or Dick: What has your experience been in other historic districts here and elsewhere with stabilization of the community?
The residents in most of the other districts in Philadelphia saw designation as a way to preserve the integrity of the neighborhood in a period of significant growth. They recognized designation as tool to regulate the fast-paced development that is occurring in various parts of the city. Other residents want to have their neighborhoods recognized as historic and protected before any major development happens. The only district designated in an economically depressed neighborhood is Diamond Street in North Philadelphia. Becoming an historic district allowed the Advocate Community Development Corporation to become eligible for tax credits to rehabilitate many homes in the district. When the Philadelphia Housing Authority developed several of the blocks, the Historical Commission ensured that the new development was in keeping with the historic nature of the area.

A VP of the SHCA said at the last Board Meeting that what the community thinks is irrelevant because "people don't matter." How can this process be justified without a way to account for what the people think?
No one from the Historical Commission was present at that meeting and didn't hear the comment. However, that is not the stance of the Commission.

I appreciate your enclosure regarding gentrification. However, I would be very interested in information regarding historic districting. Specifically, are there studies that have been done about this in particular?
The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia performed a study in Philadelphia in 1998. The study shows that districts within the city have more stable populations than the city as a whole and are more racially and economically diverse than the city as a whole.

To make the idea more appealing to those who are hesitant is there any way to work with City Council to guarantee not to raise property taxes for the length of current ownership. I believe this would address a very prevalent hesitation.
City Council may pass an ordinance concerning tax abatements. That issue would have to come from residents rather than the Historical Commission.

What is the carry over effect (positive and negative) on those houses in the University City area and not on the designated list?
For properties not in the proposed district, there is no effect.

The thing that many of us moved here for is the economic and racial diversity. Historic designation will serve to attract higher income (thus mostly white) people thus destroying our community's very strength. What is your response to this?
There are many factors that make a neighborhood desirable and impact the market value of a property. Availability of housing stock, cleanliness, access to amenities such as schools and public transportation, crime rates, stores and restaurants, integrity and uniqueness of architecture all play a role in the desirability of a neighborhood. Even without designation, Spruce Hill has seen property values and rents increase.

Describe some other cities and how historic districts in general have benefited or not benefited them (if their historic commission is structural similarly to Philadelphia).
It is difficult to compare one city to another because so many factors effect neighborhoods. Pittsburgh is the only other city in Pennsylvania that may compare and it has a number of historic districts. One district there that is comparable to West Philadelphia is Manchester, and that has been a successful local historic district for almost 20 years.

Are there any cases where historic district status has been to the detriment of a community. RE: property values, stability, diversity, etc? Has it ever led to abandonment?
There are many factors that make a neighborhood desirable and impact the market value of a property. The designation of a historic district in Philadelphia has not led to an abandonment of the area.

Will this expedite rehabbing or demolition of eye sore - blighted abandoned buildings?
Since the Historic preservation ordinance has a "demolition by neglect" clause, the City may be able to force property owners to seal a deteriorated historic building. The Commission cannot force a property owner to restore a property, but the law does say that an owner must make a property safe and sealed against the weather.

How would designation help to address problems of abandoned or run down propertied in this neighborhood?
See above.

Why do the realtors act like a designation of a historic district will result in rental increases?
Like property values, the price of rents are determined by a number of factors, including availability of rental units, cleanliness, access to amenities such as schools and public transportation, crime rates, stores and restaurants, integrity and uniqueness of architecture. Even without designation, the area has seen a marked increase in rents the last few years.

How would designation help to address problems of abandoned or run down propertied in this neighborhood?
See above.

What effect will restoration have on property taxes?
Every year, the City, through the Board of Revision of Taxes (BRT), reassesses every property in the city. BRT reviews several factors to determine the rate of assessment for each property, including the sales price of the property; if any major work has been done to it in the last year, such as an addition or finishing the basement into more living spaces, and comparable buildings in the area. Historic designation is not a factor in the assessment.

Won't this tend to raise property taxes?
The City will not automatically reassess your property upon designation. See above.

Aren't there a lot of minority people in this neighborhood who may see this as history repeating itself, not only in officially commemorating a period when they were discriminated against but also by raising cost and forcing them out? Isn't the unique character of this neighborhood, which is being cited as worth preserving, really in the harmonious diversity of its residents rather than its bricks and mortar?
A neighborhood is made of a number of ingredients, residents and buildings among them. The proposed historic district recognizes the importance of African-Americans residency in the area. Indeed, the African-American community predates the well-known Woodland Terrace.

Is historic preservation synonymous with gentrification?
No. Historic preservation recognizes buildings and sites that have architectural, historical, cultural and archaeological importance. The goal of historic preservation is to ensure that changes in the future are sympathetic to the historic resources. As Girard Estate in South Philadelphia and the thousands of buildings scattered around the city show, designation does not automatically mean gentrification.

Doesn't this point to "managed" gentrification? Won't genrificating make the historic district unaffordable for the elderly and folks with limited income or large families or illness or ??? ?
Elderly residents or residents with a limited income own many of the designated properties around the city. Simply being designated does not automatically force them from their houses.

What are the consequences of historic designation for renters in this area who make up the great majority of residents?
Like property values, the price of rents are determined by a number of factors, including availability of rental units, cleanliness, access to amenities such as schools and public transportation, crime rates, stores and restaurants, integrity and uniqueness of architecture. Even without designation, the area has seen a marked increase in rents the last few years.

What is the past experience effect on property values and rents in other historic districts whether here in Philadelphia or elsewhere?
Except for the Diamond Street Historic District, all of the local districts are in areas that experienced tremendous growth before and after designation, so it is difficult to quantify the effect of the designation. Diamond Street was extremely depressed at the time of designation. Becoming a historic district allowed the local Community Development Corporation to invest in a number of the properties. As a result, the area has a more stable population and houses now sell for market value.

What effect have past historical district designations have on diversity (racial and economic) within designated communities?
The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia performed a study in Philadelphia in 1998. The study shows that districts within the city have more stable population than the city as a whole and are more racially and economically diverse than the city as a whole.

Many of the historic district houses were built to help people move up from tenements. Doesn't increasing the cost of maintenance work against the historically appropriate owner - the first time home buyer?
Maintenance on a historically designated building is not necessarily more expensive than on a building not designated. All properties require general maintenance and many of the routine maintenance procedures that should be performed each year on a house do not change with a historic building. The staff of the Commission will work with property owners to find ways maintain a property, while at the same time conforming to the Standards of the Commission.

What can a historic district do for our community? Will it hurt property owners outside the district?
Designation of a historic district has no impact whatsoever on properties outside of the district's boundaries.

The Philadelphia Code says that historic designation isn't supposed to displace people. But historic designation will raise costs of living and costs of property ownership. How can this help but displace people, especially renters whose housing provides won't be able to claim hardship but who will have to pass on increased costs to their tenants?
Historic designation will not necessary raise the cost of living or cost of property ownership. As said previously there are many factors that make a neighborhood desirable and impact the market value of a property.

Won't the District create gentrification that displaces the poor?
No. See above.

Isn't it possible that people won't make improvements because the work will cost more than they can afford, or will make their investments in the buildings more than the property is worth? There is a large difference between a situation like this and "demolition by neglect" which seems to be the only alternative to abiding by the HD requirements.
The staff of the Commission will work with property owners to find ways to do maintenance on a property, while at the same time conforming to the Standards of the Commission. If the owner cannot afford work that meets the Standards, he/she may apply for relief under financial hardship.

Can the historic designation help reduce the number of abandoned or dilapidated houses in the neighborhood?
The Historical Commission cannot dictate whether a building must be occupied or not. However, under the "demolition by neglect" clause of the ordinance, it can force an owner to seal a building to prevent deterioration from the elements.

Will this stop absentee landlords from altering facades, example - house catches on fire - can attic dormer be removed? or must it be repaired?
If a property is designated, all work that requires a building permit or alters the exterior appearance must be reviewed by the Historical Commission. If the house historically had a dormer and it was damaged in a fire, the Commission will require that the dormer be repaired.

What is the likelihood of the rest of the ??? district becoming part of Spruce Hill?
The Historical Commission has a number of neighborhoods pursuing designation as districts. In West Philadelphia, only Spruce Hill and Powelton Village have approached the Commission. Other neighborhoods are certainly eligible for designation, but they have not approached the Commission.

How will the historic preservation district designation affect Clark Park? What effects might it have on current plans to restore/revitalize the park?
The Historical Commission will review any plans to alter Clark Park, such as lighting, paving or the erection of any structures within the park. Any plans already in place are grandfathered and will not be affected by the designation. The Dickens and Little Nell statue is already on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places as an historic object.

What effect will this have upon mural paintings in the neighborhood?
The Historical Commission reviews the painting of facades of buildings. The Commission is concerned with the conservation of historic fabric and the painting of masonry can actually be very damaging in the long term. The Commission has approved murals in the past, on former party walls that do not have any architectural features, such as windows, doors or ornate brickwork.

How will this effect my real estate taxes and homeowners insurance policy?
The Board of Revision of Taxes uses many factors to assess property values. Insurance policies are also based on a number of factors, including proximity to fire hydrants and a fire station, material of construction, evidence of smoke alarms and fire hydrants. The designation of the property should have minimal, if any effect, on an insurance policy.

Why is so much emphasis being placed on the buildings as being the heart /beauty of this area because as I see it the real structural beauty is the cast variety of people, why destroy the real beauty? Soon only the "haves" will be able to survive here.
Designation will not necessarily destroy the make-up of residents. As stated above, there are many factors that make a neighborhood desirable and impact the market value of a property. The study performed by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia shows that designation does not affect the overall racial and economic make-up of a neighborhood.

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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