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Spruce Hill District

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


Building Permit Application Process

If outside work to my house needs to be done, do I first contact a contractor or the Historical Commission?
The Commission encourages property owners to contact the Commission staff whenever you are thinking of doing work to your property. The staff can provide guidance and information that may help you when you hire a contractor or architect. However, a property owner can certainly hire a contractor to submit an application to the Commission.

What proposed work requires a building permit? eg. If I need to fix a leaky roof or get re-pointing, must I obtain approval?
Any work that alters the exterior appearance of a property requires the approval of the Historical Commission. Basic home repairs, such as fixing leaky roofs or replacing individual porch floorboards, so not require a permit because they are not altering the overall appearance of any particular element or part. Re-pointing requires a permit to ensure that the mortar is soft enough for the historic brick or stone (see page one).

Does the Commission ever provide advice and guidance for a property owner before a permit is applied for and the work takes place? Is there a fee for this? Must one use a contractor from your list?
Property owners are encouraged to contact the Commission staff before applying for a permit. All of the services provided by the Commission are free of charge. The Commission does not maintain a list of approved contractors and a property owner is not required to use a specific contractor.

Who will regulate work done on a property to make sure it is done per permit?
Enforcement of building permits is performed by the Commission staff and building inspectors from the Department of Licenses and Inspections.

How will someone know if historic permission was granted? Are permits posted?
The Department of Licenses and Inspections requires that all building permits be posted in the front window of the property.

Can you address the rumor or belief held by some neighbors that one needs to offer a "bribe" to get permission for a project?
Accepting bribes of any kind is a crime. The members of the Historical Commission, its Committees and its staff absolutely do not accept money, goods or services. If any one of these members should ever solicit or accept a bribe from you, you should contact the police.

With all of the recent improvements here, why do we need City employees other than L&I to tell us how to do things perhaps discourage work because of red tape and higher cost?
The Department of Licenses and Inspections reviews permits to verify that work to a property conforms to the building code, especially fire codes and other public safety regulations. The Historical Commission's mission is to protect the historic fabric of resources that prove important historically, architecturally, culturally and socially to the city, state and nation. Therefore the two departments review permits for different reasons. Without designation a property owner can perform work that meets the building code, yet damage the historic integrity of a property, such as enclosing or removing a porch, stuccoing over historic brickwork, or installing aluminum capping over ornate cornices. These changes, especially if they occur on numerous buildings in a neighborhood, erode the historic integrity of the area. Historic designation does not necessarily discourage work in an area. On the contrary, many neighborhoods, when the municipality recognizes them as historic, take great pride in the recognition and do more work to maintain the historic nature of the area.

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 215-683-4590.

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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