A Model Ordinance for Urban Conservation Districts

in Center City Philadelphia

In 1992, the Preservation Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and the firm of John Milner Associates produced a model ordinance for a conservation district program in Philadelphia for low and low-to moderate-income neighborhoods in 1992. This model has been used as a guide in drafting the following ordinance and guidelines.

Section 1.

I. Declaration of Public Policy and Purposes

It is hereby declared a matter of public policy that the conservation and maintenance of the physical fabric and character-defining elements of Urban Conservation Districts is a matter of public necessity to the well-being of the citizens of and visitors to the City of Philadelphia.

The Urban Conservation District Ordinance defines a program that would be carried out by the City of Philadelphia with design guidelines specific to the 12th and 13th Street Corridor upon designation. This document does not address criteria for designation of other urban conservation districts but can be further adapted to include a more comprehensive approach throughout the City of Philadelphia.

The purpose of the 12th and 13th Street Corridor Urban Conservation District is to improve the quality of life through the conservation and maintenance of the physical fabric of the District; to protect the unique and desirable architectural features of the area; to enhance the character-defining elements of the District; to provide guidance and technical information, through threshold design guidelines or supplemental design guidelines to assist the community in the conservation of the physical fabric of the District; and to provide for the economic revitalization of the District.

II. The Board. The Urban Conservation District Review Board shall be appointed, consisting of City officials and private sector members as follows:

A. City officials to be appointed by the Mayor:

1. The Commissioner of Licenses and Inspections or his/her designee.

2. The Chairman of the City Planning Commission or the Chairman's designee.

3. The Director of the Office of Housing and Community Development or his/her designee.

4. The Historic Preservation Officer of the Philadelphia Historical Commission or his/her designee.

B. City Official(s) to be appointed by the Mayor:

1. Two Philadelphia City Council members.

A. Private sector members to be appointed by the Mayor and approved by City Council members:

1. Two representatives of major business or community organizations that represent one or more urban conservation districts.

2. One architect experienced in new construction as well as commercial and residential rehabilitation and conservation in an urban setting.

3. One accountant.

4. One historian.

5. One community member at large.

III. Powers and Duties of the Board. The powers and duties of the board shall be as follows:

A. Increase public awareness of the value of urban conservation;

B. Adopt rules of procedure and regulations, and establish such committees, as the Board deems necessary for the conduct of its business;

C. Cause to be prepared and maintained a comprehensive list of all addresses of all buildings within the urban conservation districts;

D. Provide public notice of, and conduct regularly scheduled public meetings at intervals no less frequent than thirty (30) days, and consider the public testimony of all interested stakeholders on each application; minutes of each meeting shall be kept on file with the Urban Conservation District Office;

E. Review and act as required upon applications for permits to alter building exteriors visible from the public right-of-way located within the urban conservation districts, and to review and comment upon all applications for permits to construct or demolish buildings or structures, and any addition thereto within the urban conservation districts as provided in this section;

F. Request comments from the City Planning Commission and the business and community organizations in the urban conservation districts to determine the extent to which those components of existing zoning affecting the streetscape in the urban conservation districts conform to actual existing conditions of the buildings and structures which are to be conserved; and to make necessary recommendations for the refinement of those zoning criteria as appropriate;

G. Make recommendations to the Mayor and City Council concerning the use of grants, gifts, loans, and budgetary appropriations to promote the conservation of the urban conservation districts;

H. Make recommendations to the Mayor and City Council that the City coordinate efforts to stabilize and conserve abandoned and/or deteriorated structures and vacant lots within the urban conservation districts where private conservation is not feasible, or that the City acquire property interest that would promote neighborhood conservation;

I. To deny or approve any application that alters a building's façade visible from the public right-of-way, or to demolish or construct a building within the urban conservation district;

J. Cause to be prepared supplemental design guidelines for each newly created urban conservation district;

IV. The Coordinator. The Coordinator shall be appointed by the Mayor. The Coordinator is the Director of the Urban Conservation District Office, an entity under the jurisdiction of the Mayor;

V. Powers and Duties of the Coordinator. The powers and duties of the Coordinator shall be as follows:

A. Serve as a liaison between the residents of the urban conservation district, the business and community associations in the urban conservation district, and the City agencies;

B. Hire staff knowledgeable in history, architecture, or historic preservation to work in the Urban Conservation District Office;

C. Develop permit application material;

D. Preliminary review of permit applications;

E. Maintain an accurate list of the properties within the urban conservation districts;

F. Report regularly to Licenses and Inspections, the Historical Commission, the City Planning Commission, the Office of Housing and Community Development, and the urban conservation district's council members on activities within the urban conservation districts;

G. Meet no less frequently than bi-weekly with the Board to review status of applications for alterations, new construction, and demolition within the urban conservation districts;

H. Schedule regular field visits to the urban conservation districts to observe construction activity;

I. Schedule regular visits to, and coordination with, the business and community organizations within the urban conservation districts;

J. Organize and present of regular educational workshops within the urban conservation districts;

K. Maintain familiarity with ongoing programs affecting the physical environment in the urban conservation districts, whether conducted through public sources or nonprofit sources;

L. Attend each regularly scheduled meeting of the Urban Conservation District Board;

M. Make recommendations to the Board regarding disbursement of financial assistance that may be available to applicants who perform alterations as recommended in the design guidelines;

N. Prepare semi-annual reports on the status and accomplishments of the urban conservation districts, including suggested revisions and improvements, for presentation to the Board;

O. Provide recommendations to the Board regarding decisions to grant or deny permit applications;

P. Perform other such duties as may be appropriate;

VI. Public Notice.

A. Public Notice shall be provided for all public meetings of the Board, and applications that are reviewed by the Board.

B. Public notice of all meetings shall be published in the newspaper;

1. permit applications for demolition shall be published in the newspaper no less than ten (10) days prior to the meeting of the Board;

2. permit applications for new construction or alterations that are to be reviewed by the Board shall be published in the newspaper no less than seven (7) days prior to the meeting of the Board;

C. A notice shall be posted on the property that is under review for permit;

1. permit applications for demolition shall be posted on the property no less than ten (10) days prior to the meeting of the permit applications for new construction or alterations that are to be reviewed by the Board shall be posted on the property no less than seven (7) days prior to the meeting of the Board;

D. Any interested party may present testimony, or documentary evidence regarding any permit application reviewed by the Board.

VII. Definitions

1. 12th and 13th Street Corridor: The area bounded on the north by the south side of Market Street, but not including those buildings fronting on Market Street; on the east by the west side of 11th Street; on the south by the South Street; and on the west by Juniper Street.

2. Addition: A construction project physically connected to the exterior of building.

3. Alteration: Any change affecting the exterior appearance of an existing improvement by additions, reconstruction, remodeling, or maintenance involving changes in color, form, texture, or materials.

4. Applicant: One who applies for a permit for any change to a building for which a permit is required under the Philadelphia Code of General Ordinances.

5. Board: The Urban Conservation Review Board.

6. Block: A space, usually rectangular in configuration, enclosed by streets, enclosed by streets at least two traffic lanes in width, and occupied by or intended for buildings.

7. Boundary: The line, which defines the limit or extent of the urban conservation districts. The boundary will usually follow the centerline of a street, the front property line of the property along that street, or the rear property line of the property along that street.

8. Building: A structure or edifice enclosing a space and providing protection from the elements; typically includes walls, a roof, and other components.

9. Commercial District: The area that encompasses those parcels that are zoned C1, C2, C4, C5, RC4.

10. Condition: The state of fitness and readiness for use of a building or structure. The determination of condition usually includes such considerations as whether or not the building continues to provide shelter, whether it is ready for habitation, and whether it is structurally sound.

11. Construction: the act of erecting a building, structure, or object upon an undeveloped site.

12. Coordinator: A person who demonstrates professional experience in areas of architecture, urban planning and historic preservation and acts as a liaison between the stakeholders, the Board, and City agencies.

13. Demolition: The act or process of wrecking, destroying, or removing any building or any part thereof. Demolition includes, but is not limited to, the removal of a building from its site, or the removal or destruction of a façade or surface.

14. Design Guidelines: Written criteria, supplemented by graphic illustrations as appropriate, illustrating architectural considerations, which will affect the granting of building permits within the urban conservation district.

Threshold design guidelines: City-wide urban conservation district guidelines that provide a minimum and consistent level of protection for the physical character of all urban conservation districts.

Supplemental design guidelines: Neighborhood-specific and separately developed for each urban conservation district. These guidelines have been developed for the 12th and 13th Corridor Urban Conservation District but can be further created for other urban conservation districts in the City of Philadelphia.

15. District: The 12th and 13th Street Corridor.

16. Façade: Any of the exterior faces of a building.

17. Improvement: Any building, structure, fence, gate, wall, walkway, parking facility, light fixture, bench, fountain, sign, work of art, earthworks, or other man-made objects constituting a physical betterment of real property, or any part of such betterment.

18. Infill: Descriptive of buildings that have been designed and built to replace missing structures or otherwise fill gaps in the streetscape. Infill architecture shall be compatible in such elements as height, proportion, and materials.

19. Landscape Feature: Any improvements or vegetation including, but not limited to, outbuildings, walls, courtyards, fences, shrubbery, trees, sidewalks, planters, plantings, gates, street furniture, and exterior lighting.

20. Ordinary Maintenance or Repair: The process of conserving a site, building, structure or object over time to prevent deterioration as opposed to restoration or rehabilitation; may include inspection and planning as well as housekeeping, minor repairs, and painting.

21. Preservation: The act or process of applying measures to sustain the existing form, integrity, and material of a building or structure and the existing form and vegetative cover of a site. It may include initial stabilization work where necessary, as well as ongoing maintenance of the building materials and vegetation.

22. Primary Façade: The front wall of a building, or the wall in which the principal building entrance is located.

23. Public Right-of-Way: Any designated public street, sidewalk, park, or space.

24. Rehabilitation: The act or process of making possible a compatible use for a property through repair, alterations, and additions while preserving those portions or features, which convey its historical, cultural, or architectural values.

25. Residential District: The area that encompasses those parcels that are zoned RC4, R10, R10A.

26. Restoration: The act or process of accurately recovering the form, features and character of a property as it appeared at a particular period of time which may involve the removal of later additions or alterations, or the replacement of missing features.

27. Stabilization: The act or process of applying measures necessary to reestablish the stability of unsafe, damaged, or deteriorated property while retaining the essential form as it exists at present.

28. Stakeholder: Any person that works, lives or invests in the District.

29. Streetscape: The visual character of a public way determined by such elements as the facades and rooflines of buildings, cornices, stoops and steps, sidewalks, trees and bushes, and the street itself.

30. Structure: A functional construction made for the purposes other than creating a shelter.

31. Urban Conservation District: An overlay zoning district with clear geographical boundaries that is established with the specific intention of conserving the physical character of streetscapes.

32. Vacant Lot: Plot of ground that was previously built upon, but that presently has no structures upon it.

VIII. Permits

A. No person shall alter, demolish, or construct a building within the urban conservation districts without first obtaining a permit from the Department of Licenses and Inspections;

B. Before the Department of Licenses and Inspections can issue a permit to alter a building's façade visible from the public right-of-way, or to demolish or construct a building within the Urban Conservation Districts, the permit application shall be reviewed by the Coordinator;

C. The Coordinator shall have a maximum of fourteen (14) calendar days to review the applications for permits for construction, alteration, or demolition as defined herein;

D. At the time that a permit application is filed with the Coordinator for alteration, demolition, or construction subject to the review of the Coordinator and the Board, as defined herein, the Coordinator may require the applicant to submit the following:

1. A narrative description of the proposed work;

2. Plans and 3" x 5" (minimum) photographs of existing conditions;

3. Plans and specifications for any construction proposed after demolition, and

4. Such other information as the Coordinator may reasonably require to exercise its duties and responsibilities under this section.

E. In making a determination as to the appropriateness of proposed alterations, demolition, or construction, the Coordinator shall consider the following:

1. The purposes of this section;

2. The effect of the proposed work on the building and to the urban conservation districts;

3. The design of the proposed work; and

4. The extent to which the proposals for alteration or construction are in accordance with the Design Guidelines.

F. Alteration Permits. All applications for permits for alterations to buildings within the urban conservation districts shall be reviewed in accordance with the following:

1. Proposed alterations to any façade visible from the public right-of-way shall be reviewed by the Coordinator prior to the granting of a permit. The Coordinator shall defer a decision to the Board as he/she sees necessary.

2. Alterations to any façade visible from the public right-of-way or buildings within the urban conservation districts which require a building permit from the Coordinator or the Board include:

a. Altering the size or shape of window and door openings

b. Infilling window and door openings

c. Constructing additional floors or living space visible from the public right-of-way.

d. Where the building is set back from the property line, paving over unpaved areas visible from the public right-of-way.

e. Pointing masonry

f. Cleaning masonry

g. Cladding masonry

h. Painting unpainted masonry

i. Adding structures including satellite dishes visible from the public right-of-way.

j. Replacing clear glass with reflective or tinted glass

k. Altering cornices, trim, doors, windows, stoops, and porches.

l. Altering rooflines in a visible fashion.

3. No permit shall be granted for altering any façade visible from the public right-of-way of any building within the urban conservation districts unless the proposed alterations satisfy the Design Guidelines. These Design Guidelines will apply to any façade visible from the public right-of-way of any building within the urban conservation districts.

 

4. In review of applications for alterations, the Coordinator shall have the following administrative options:

a. Approval based on the application's conformance to each pertinent Design Guideline.

b. Approval with conditions, based on consultation with the applicant regarding aspects of the proposed alteration which are not defined in the application; or,

c. Denial, based on the application's failure to conform to all of the pertinent Design Guidelines; or,

d. Approval, and recommendation for eligibility for access by the applicant to financial assistance that may be available for the project based on the application's conformance to the Design Guidelines; or,

e. Referral to the Board for final decision, in applications for alterations, which include aspects which have not been adequately anticipated in the Design Guidelines.

5. The Department of Licensing and Inspections shall prepare a monthly report summarizing all applications for permits for alterations to any façade visible from the public right-of-way on any building in the urban conservation districts and indicating actions taken. The monthly report shall be distributed to each member of the Board and to the business and community organizations within the urban conservation districts. In addition, the Department of Licensing and Inspection's monthly report shall be made available to members of the public upon written request to the Department of Licensing and Inspections;

6. Review by the Coordinator and Board of application for permits for alterations to any façade visible from the public right-of-way of any building within the urban conservation districts is in addition to such reviews as may be required by the Department of Licenses and Inspections, or other governing City agencies prior to the granting of a permit;

7. The Board shall by two-thirds majority vote grant an exemption from the requirements of this ordinance in specific cases as will not be contrary to the public interest, where owing to special conditions, a literal enforcement of the provisions of this ordinance would have significant negative effect on the quality of life of the applicant, so that the spirit of this ordinance shall be observed and substantial justice done, subject to such terms and conditions as the Board may decide.

G. New Construction Permits. All applications for permits for construction of a building within the urban conservation districts shall be reviewed in accordance with the following:

1. Must follow Design Guidelines, which will be created. These Guidelines shall stress the compatibility of new construction with existing physical characteristics of the urban conservation district's streetscape;

2. Proposed construction will be reviewed by the Coordinator, who will forward the application to the Board, accompanied by the Coordinator's written summary of the application and recommendations as appropriate. The Board will review and comment on the proposal at its regularly scheduled public meeting. The review and comment by the Coordinator and by the Board at the public meeting are required prior to the granting of a permit by the Coordinator;

3. In reviewing the application, the Coordinator shall refer to the Design Guidelines to evaluate the extent to which the proposed construction is compatible with the buildings immediately adjacent to the site of the proposed construction and throughout the urban conservation districts;

4. The Coordinator's written recommendations regarding the proposed construction shall be forwarded to each member of the Board and to the business and community organizations within the urban conservation districts no less than fourteen (14) days prior to the Board's next regularly scheduled meeting;

5. The Coordinator shall attend any public meeting related to the granting of a permit for the proposed new construction, included but not necessarily limited to the Zoning Board, and shall present an evaluation of the conformance of the proposed construction with the physical character of the urban conservation districts on behalf of the Board;

6. The Department of Licenses and Inspections shall prepare a bi-monthly report summarizing all applications for permits for new construction within the urban conservation districts and indicating the actions taken. The report shall be distributed to each member of the Board, and to the business and community organizations within the urban conservation districts. In addition, the Department of Licenses and Inspectionsí reports shall be made available to members of the public upon written request to the Department of Licenses and Inspections;

7. Review by the Coordinator and Board of applications for permits for new construction within the urban conservation districts is in addition to such reviews as may be required by the Department of Licenses and Inspections or other governing City agencies prior to the granting of a permit;

H. Demolition Permits. Applications for permits of demolition of a building within the urban conservation districts shall be reviewed in accordance with the following:

1. Proposed demolition will be reviewed by the Coordinator, who will forward the application to the Board, accompanied by the Coordinator's written summary of the application and recommendations as appropriate. The Board will review and comment on the proposal at its regularly scheduled public meeting. The review and comment by the Coordinator and by the Board at the public meeting are required prior to the granting of a permit by the Coordinator. The Board may delay action regarding the approval of a request for a demolition permit for a period not to exceed ninety (90) days;

2. In reviewing the application, the Coordinator shall evaluate the probable impact of the demolition on the buildings immediately adjacent to the site of the proposed demolition and throughout the urban conservation districts. The Coordinator shall also refer to vacant lot treatment guidelines, in order to recommend to the Board appropriate mitigation of the impact of the demolition;

3. The Coordinator's written recommendations regarding the proposed demolition shall be forwarded to each member of the Board and to the business and community organizations within the urban conservation districts no less than fourteen (14) days prior to the Board's next regularly scheduled meeting;

4. The Coordinator shall attend any public meeting related to the granting of a permit for the proposed demolition, included but not necessarily limited to the Zoning Board, and shall present an evaluation of the conformance of the proposed construction with the physical character of the urban conservation districts on behalf of the Board;

5. The Department of Licenses and Inspections shall prepare a bi-monthly report summarizing all applications for permits for demolition within the urban conservation districts and indicating the actions taken. The report shall be distributed to each member of the Board, and to the business and community organizations within the urban conservation districts. In addition, the Department of Licenses and Inspections' reports shall be made available to members of the public upon written request to the Department of Licenses and Inspections;

6. Review by the Coordinator and Board of applications for permits for demolition within the urban conservation districts is in addition to such reviews as may be required by the Department of Licenses and Inspections or other governing City agencies prior to the granting of a permit;

7. The above required procedures pursuant to the granting of a permit for demolition of a building within the urban conservation districts will be suspended in cases where the Department of Licenses and Inspections has determined a property to be imminently dangerous, in accordance with the Department's evaluation of the property. However, in such cases the Coordinator shall recommend to the Board appropriate treatments in accordance with the vacant lot treatment guidelines of the urban conservation districts. Upon approval of the Coordinator's recommendations, the Board shall explore methods to assist in the implementation of these vacant lot treatments at the property;

IX. Performance of Work and Maintenance.

A. The Coordinator shall upon the request of the Board, examine the buildings within the urban conservation districts and report to the Board on their physical condition;

B. All work performed pursuant to the issuance of a permit for the alteration, construction or demolition of a building subject to the Board's review shall conform to the requirements of such permit. It shall be the duty of the Coordinator to inspect from time to time any work performed pursuant to such permit to ensure compliance. If work is not being performed in accordance with the permit requirements, the Department of Licenses and Inspections shall issue a stop work order and all work shall cease until all work is brought into conformity with the requirements of the permit;

C. The exterior of every building, structure, site, or object located with the urban conservation districts shall be kept in good repair, the neglect of which may cause or tend to cause the exterior to deteriorate, decay, and become damaged, or otherwise fall into a state of disrepair. In the regular survey of the buildings within the urban conservation districts, the Department of Licenses and Inspections shall be entitled to rely on the requirements of Articles 1-3 of the BOCA National Property Maintenance Code, 1990 edition;

D. The provisions of this section shall not be construed to prevent the ordinary maintenance or repair of any building where such work does not require a permit by law and where the purpose and effect of such work is to correct any deterioration or decay of, or damage to the building and/or to restore the building to its condition prior to the occurrence of such deterioration, decay, or damage;

X. Enforcement.

A. The Department of Licenses and Inspections is authorized to promulgate regulations necessary to perform its duties under this section;

B. The Department of Licenses and Inspections may issue orders directing the compliance with the requirements of this section. An order shall be served upon the owner or person determined by the Department of Licenses and Inspections to be violating the requirements of this section. If the person served is not the owner of the property where the violation is deemed to exist or to have occurred, a copy of the order shall sent to the last known address of the owner of record and a copy shall be posted on the property. Where the owner's address is unknown, a copy of the order shall be posted on the property;

C. The Department of Licenses and Inspections shall not issue any permit without the proper authorization from the Coordinator or the Board;

D. Any person who violates a requirement of this section or fails to obey an order issued by the Department of Licenses and Inspections shall be subject to a fine of ($300.00) three hundred dollars or in default of payment of the fine, imprisonment not exceeding ninety (90) days;

E. Any person who alters or demolishes a residential building in violation of this section or in violation of any conditions or requirements specified in a permit shall be required to restore the building, structure, site, or object involved to its appearance prior to the violation. Such restoration shall be in addition to any other penalty or remedy available under the Code or any other applicable law;

XI. Appeals. Any person aggrieved by the issuance of a denial of any permit reviewed by the Board may appeal such action to the Board of Review for the urban conservation districts. Such appeal must be filed within fifteen (15) days of the date of receipt of notification of the Board's action. The Board of Review for the urban conservation districts shall give written notice of any such appeal to the Board within three (3) days of the filing of the appeal.

 

Section 2. If any provision of this ordinance or the application thereof to any person or circumstances is held invalid, such invalidity shall not affect other provisions or applications of the Ordinance which can be given effect without the invalid provision or application, and to this end, the provisions of this Ordinance are declared to be severable.

 

Section 3. The City of Philadelphia shall establish an Urban Conservation District program with the following administrative functions:

The Board.

The Coordinator.

 

Section 4. This ordinance shall take effect __________.