Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Helping the Historic District Commission Move Forward

By Councilwoman Debbie Campbell

Recently, a scathing ruling in a court case against Salisbury’s Historic District Commission (SHDC) drew renewed focus on how the city can improve the way that the commission reviews applications and renders decisions, as well as raising other issues. (Click here to see the actual judges’ opinion. Salisbury_v_Leer)

Prior to these latest criticisms, the council has heard concerns regarding the “hoops” that owners of historic buildings are forced to go through, even for small repairs that routinely come before the commission for approval.

I believe that the preservation of historically significant homes, buildings and landmarks is important to maintaining the character and identity of a community. I am supportive of making it as easy as possible for owners to complete repairs and improvements that support historic preservation. The right tools and guidelines will also make the commission members’ work easier and more effective.

Over 18 months ago, I suggested that repairs that are routinely approved should simply require a permit and inspection for compliance. An example of such repairs would be removing plywood or salt-treated porch flooring and replacing it with tongue-and-groove flooring that would be in keeping with what was original to the building. Unfortunately, there has been no further discussion or change to make it easier to achieve preservation and protect historically significant buildings.

Last week I asked several questions about the Salisbury Historic District Commission of the Mayor and Mr. Pick. Mr. Pick, the city administrator, advised me that the Mayor would provide answers. The answers have not been provided. Yesterday I raised the questions again. I am sharing the email exchange so that the public will know the questions and the reasoning behind them.

June 17th –

John –

I am interested in the City making sure that the SHDC has the tools
needed to make decisions that will benefit preservation of historically
significant homes in historic neighborhoods while improving the process for Salisbury's residents of historic districts. To that end, answers to the following questions will be very helpful. What is the current status of the SHDC's new guidelines for decisioning? I remember that they were in draft a while ago. Have they been finalized? It is my understanding the Dept. of the Interior no longer recognizes that alphabetical or numerical ranking system, rather a significant of non-significant (or something similar) ranking.

I also wonder if this determination is given at the time of hearing or if an inventory is conducted and all houses classified accordingly so that owners will know whether or not they need to apply for approval for improvements/repairs.

When is the next meeting of the commission?

Thank you in advance for your response.


June 19th --

Debbie - the Mayor has stated that she will respond to your questions.

June 23rd -

Mayor/John -

I still haven't received a response and I believe that we may have a
commission meeting soon. If we have not adopted guidelines and addressed
the deficiencies, I think that the meeting should be postponed until we do.
It would be unfair to the applicants, the historic neighborhoods, and the
commission members to conduct meetings without the appropriate written
guidance. Please send a response regarding the current status per my e-mail
of last week.

I would also like to know what measures have been taken to address the
highly objectionable behavior by the Chair, as articulated by the judge.



Tomorrow (Wednesday) the commission will convene to consider more than a dozen applications. I close with this question: How is it possible that answers to such basic questions haven’t been provided, yet we are moving ahead?