New Guidelines On Historic Preservation Take Effect
December 15, 2006
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
New guidelines that aim to safeguard both the city's historic properties and the pocketbooks of those who own them went into effect Wednesday, setting home improvement standards that keep the city's low-income residents in mind, officials said Thursday.
"We're just hoping to preserve as much of Hartford as possible," said Laura Knott-Twine, the executive director of the Hartford Preservation Alliance.
The city council adopted a new preservation ordinance in May 2005 that, among other things, puts a premium on protecting historic homes but also set a limit: the city can't compel property owners to make historically relevant repairs if those repairs add more than 20 percent to the cost of the project.
Since then, an advisory committee has worked with a consultant to draft the recently approved design guidelines. Those guidelines - which were based on the federal Department of Interior's similar provisions - were approved by the council a month ago and went into effect this week.
The guidelines are lengthy, but the goals are pithy. Repair rather than replace. Duplicate original feature. Honor original materials. And so on.
Under the new guidelines, property owners seeking to perform repairs will be informed of their responsibilities when they apply to the city for a building permit. City officials will work with property owners to define the scope of their project and to figure out whether it needs to comply with the city's historic preservation ordinance.
Property owners will be given a list of recommended and not-recommended ways to do their specific project, Knott-Twine said. They may also be given lists of contractors familiar with the necessary work, and ideas on how to best save money, she said.
The city and the alliance are ready to help, she said. "The more prepared you are, the easier the process is going to be," she said. "There is going to be every effort made to move things along as quickly as possible.
Mayor Eddie A. Perez has long said that he was concerned about saddling low-income homeowners with repairs they couldn't afford, said Matt Hennessy, his chief of staff.
To that end, there is the 20 percent cap in the ordinance. Also, city-ordered emergency repairs are exempted from compliance with the historic preservation process, he said. Finally, any plans not approved 45 days after submission are to be considered approved, he said.
"The purpose is to educate folks," Hennessy said. "If people knew what the historical nature of their homes were, I think most people would voluntarily do it."
The city will hold various public information sessions on the new ordinance. For more information, property owners may contact the city's development office at 860-757-9040 or the alliance at 860-570-0331.
"A lot of it is common sense, and that's really what we're there to help people understand," Knott-Twine said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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