New Castle News

Local News

March 22, 2012

City may elimiate historical review board

NEW CASTLE — New Castle’s Historical Architectural Review Board would be eliminated under proposed revisions to the city’s zoning ordinance.

City solicitor Jason Medure has presented a draft to council with the proposed language changes in the ordinance and deletes the section that establishes the board.

In comments made to council at its work session Tuesday, Medure said the board has done “more harm than good to the city.”

Residents, he said, don’t need to be “harassed” when making improvements to their homes.

Wednesday, Medure elaborated, “There have been several complaints by North Hill residents relating to people acting under the guise of the (board) where they have no authority.”

The zoning ordinance, adopted in 2009, establishes the boundaries of the historic district, which essentially covers much of the North Hill and extends into a portion of the downtown.

It also sets standards for making renovations and improvements to houses in the district.

If the city zoning officer denies a permit for improvement in the district, the property owner can appeal. Under the current ordinance, the board, in its advisory capacity, would consider appeals then present a recommendation to council. Council would have the final say.

Under Medure’s proposal, any appeal would be submitted to council, which would conduct a public hearing.

He said the board’s purpose to hear appeals “was never activated because there’s never been an appeal.”

Medure said any private citizen concerned about maintaining the integrity of the district can notify the zoning officer of any violation.

He also proposes language changes from “will” and “shall” to “encouraged.”

For example, the current ordinance states that a structure “will be preserved, repaired, renovated or expanded” in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for rehabilitation. The amendment would change “will” to “are encouraged to be preserved, ...”

Asked whether the language changes weaken the ordinance, he said, “I just think it’s providing clarification.”

He added that as long as residents abide by Department of Interior guidelines, they can then take advantage of a tax deduction. The department just requires homeowners to follow the guidelines to get the benefit.

“Not all homes on the North Hill have historic value or historic significance.”

Audrey Przybylski, the board’s chairwoman, read part of a statement at the work session, but was not able to complete it because of a three–minute limit on public comments.

In the statement, she said “the real issue is getting the public educated about the ordinance.”

In other cities, permits are reviewed by the historic review board, she said, and suggested New Castle do the same. It would make it “easier and more civil in working with the public.”

She said Wednesay board members would meet to discuss the proposed ordinance changes.

Medure said the amendment would first be reviewed by the city and Lawrence County planning commissions before council introduces the ordinance. Council would conduct a public hearing before voting on adoption.

(Email: jmanna@ncnewsonline.com)

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