Answering unanswered historic district questions

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By Meaghan Downs

Usually, I ask the questions.
This time, however, I thought I’d attempt to answer objectively some of the questions that came up during the historic district commission public hearing Dec. 6.
After speaking with members of the commission, as well as with representatives from the Bardstown historic district and the Kentucky Heritage Council, these are the answers I received:

Q: Who is included?
Currently, the proposed area stretches from 215 North Main St. to Carlton Drive, including all properties fronting East Woodford Street beginning at the intersection of Woodford and Main and then east to the railroad crossing. The area also includes properties on College Street, and those properties on East Court Street at the intersection of Court and Main to the railroad tracks.
George Geoghegan, chairman of the committee, said the commission felt the area had most of the historic properties still in decent shape than other parts of the city.
Not all of these properties, however, will necessarily be included in the final recommendation of the historic district area.

Q: What are the guidelines for properties in the historic district?
As of now, they’re pretty general. Properties, including homes and businesses, should comply with the historic nature of the structure, and any alteration or new construction must do the same. For example, if your house is built in the ‘30s, any addition should maintain similar exterior aesthetics.
Alterations, as defined by the 2006 historic district ordinance, may include any construction, replacement or remodeling on a building that changes the exterior structure, location or appearance.
The historic district commission has not set any specific design standards, and probably won’t until after the historic district is officially approved, Geoghegan said.

Q: Do the guidelines include paint color?
In Bardstown it does. Pen Bogert, the preservation administrator for Bardstown’s historic board, says the application and approval process for alterations, including paint color, takes about a month, once the property owner has applied for his or her certificate.
Outside of whatever falls under the term “alterations,” the commission has not specifically defined any more specific guidelines, including kinds of paint color. That doesn’t mean paint color won’t be included in future design standards, however.

Q: Do exterior alterations include landscaping?
“We have not read that regulation to be that broad, but that doesn’t apply to anything right on Main Street anyway,” Geoghegan said, adding that landscaping would probably only be an issue if it obstructed the front of a property.  

Q: What is the certificate of appropriateness?
A certificate of appropriateness or COA, is written permission from the historic district commission for the homeowner to make exterior or structural changes to the property. The current fee set for the certificate application is $50. Geoghegan said he’d like to see the council change that amount.
In Bardstown, there is a sliding scale of fees. To apply to change your paint color, it’s $35. For major new construction, $500.

Q: How will the commission be financed?
All five members of the historic district commission were appointed by the city council, and are volunteers. According to the commission, the only person compensated for their time regarding historic district regulation enforcement would be the code enforcement officer. George Geoghegan, chairperson of the commission, said there is the possibility that one of the members on the board will be performing the duties of a code enforcement officer free of charge.

Q: What grants will the city receive?
If a historic district is established, Lawrenceburg can apply to become a Certified Local Government.
This means the city could receive a matching grant to assist with funding preservation projects. However, these grants must be used in the exact manner the historic district commission said it would use them in its proposal to the Heritage Council.
Bogert said the grant Bardstown receives is used mainly to assist with his salary, and to hire interns from UK’s school of architecture to document historic properties.
Wendy Wheatcraft, the planning and research coordinator from the Kentucky Heritage Council, said grant amounts range from $3,000 to $20,000.
“Usually, we receive seven-10 grant applications a year, but it’s becoming more and more competitive,” Wheatcraft said via e-mail.

Q: What can I write off for tax credit?
Homeowners can write off renovations on historic property as tax credits. However, both Bogert and Geoghegan confirmed that these renovations must be equal to or more than $20,000. Bogert also said there are few to no grants available that aid homeowners in updating and maintaining historic residences.

Q: How will it be enforced?
According to the ordinance, the commission only has the authority to enforce historic preservation guidelines when it comes to alterations or changes being made to the exterior portions of the property.
There is also a “demolition by neglect” clause, in which the commission has authority to issue a demolition permit if the structure presents a danger or health hazard to the occupant, or to its neighbors.
Otherwise, no property owner is subject to following historic district guidelines, unless they decide to make alterations or undergo new construction.

Q: What are the fines for failing to apply for a COA?
If a property owner makes changes, but fails to acquire a certificate of appropriateness, he or she could face a misdemeanor charge and be fined $50-$500 for each offense.
Each day’s violation shall constitute a separate offense. Those who disagree with the commission’s ruling can appeal in circuit court, and have the ruling reversed, Geoghegan said.

Q: Who decides if the historic district stays?
After three public hearings and after both the joint planning and zoning board and city council have reviewed the commission’s recommendations, the city council will make a final vote on establishing the historic district.
Future dates for public hearings, as well as any special-called meetings, will be announced in the Anderson News.

What do you think about Lawrenceburg establishing a historic district? Let us know at news@theandersonnews.com.