Removal of the 20 percent provision: Does it cause undue economic hardship?
By Steve DiMattia
Resident Community News
Some Riverside/Avondale property owners think they may have to pay more for home renovations because of the recent removal of a provision from the historical preservation ordinance that protected against economic hardship for window, door and roof replacement.
“Taking away this provision takes away the statutory guarantee of reasonableness,” said one homeowner, who asked to remain anonymous. “What seems to be a minor code change has substantial effects. The homeowner no longer has any protection from unreasonable design regulations and requirements by the planning department or historic commission.”
The removed provision mandated this: if a property owner could demonstrate that the historic feature was unsalvageable and he could do the same work — including design — as the district regulations mandated at a 20 percent or more savings then the project had to be approved.
Here’s the former wording from ordinance 2011-539-E, which is part of the Historical Preservation Code, Chapter 307: “When a certificate of appropriateness has been applied for in connection with the replacement of roof covering, windows or doors, the Commission shall allow the property owner’s original design plans when the applicable Historic District Design Regulations will result in a cost in excess of 20 percent of the property owner’s original plans. The owner shall be required to show to the Commission’s satisfaction that the work to be performed will be in accordance with the original roof lines and conform to the original door and window openings of the structure and the replacement of windows, doors or roof materials with the less expensive alternative will achieve a savings in excess of 20 percent over historically compatible materials otherwise required under this Chapter.”
The 20 percent provision was removed in September 2011 because it was considered redundant with approved district regulations and that the amended ordinance leaves plenty of options for financial relief from having to match historic materials for windows and doors, according to Jason Teal, the General Counsel attorney who prepared the new legislation.
The provision removal, however, did not make the radar of some local contractors.
Dale Crisp, President/CEO of Kendale Design/Build, said he was unaware that the provision had been removed from the code. He thinks it was beneficial to homeowners to have both the 20 percent provision and the approved district regulations.
“If you left in all of the existing exemptions along with the 20 percent provision I think it would be a cleaner process instead of being redundant,” Crisp said. “I think that would actually streamline it even further.”
There is concern the provision’s removal could make obtaining a Certificate of Appropriateness more difficult. A COA is required to make external changes to structures or to construct new buildings in the district. It verifies that proposed work maintains the district’s historic integrity and meets local design regulations.
“Removing the 20 percent cost threshold is going to make maintaining a home in the historic district more expensive because the historic commission no longer has to follow a statutory guideline that controls costs for the homeowner,” according to the anonymous local homeowner. “Basically, the commission has complete control over what you can do with your house and how much you will have to spend to do it.”
While Kendale’s Crisp did not think anything sinister was taking place, he agreed it was important to be aware of the process. And the ordinance language could open debate on who makes the final call.
“I think the city is trying to head in the right direction and simplify based upon their historical review process — I don’t know that removing the provision is going to hurt the long-term benefits to the homeowner,” Crisp said. “But the ordinance also says, ‘to the discretion of…,’ and whenever you have that it just depends upon who is sitting on what side of the table as to what the decision may be.”
The Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission, along with the Planning and Development Department staff, are the gatekeepers of the COA.
The historical commission’s 7-member board is appointed by the mayor and currently includes lawyers and architects; one is the former Chair of the Design Review Committee of Riverside Avondale Preservation. The commission was established in 1990 and follows district regulations based on the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. It draws its review authority from Chapter 307.
J. Richard Moore, Jr., JHPC chairman, said the commission began reviewing applications by asking a simple question.
“The question of ‘restore or replace’ had to be answered first,” Moore said. “Applicants first had to demonstrate that replacement was warranted. Once that was determined, we could explore alternate materials and the possibility of applying the 20 percent option.”
When Chapter 307 was first enacted in 1990, specific neighborhood design regulations were not in place; they were later approved as part of the district designation. The 20 percent provision originally was included to “provide a property owner with sufficient economic relief from unduly burdensome design determinations” that might come from being required to use original design materials for window and door replacement.
“It served as a safety valve,” said General Counsel Teal. “Once design regulations were adopted and it was specified that cheaper alternate materials could be used, the 20 percent provision became obsolete.”
Teal said discussion of alternate materials doesn’t come into play until the commission first approves replacement over restoration. Moore noted that renovation is preferred and added that Sunshine Laws apply to the commission.
“We have no hidden agendas,” Moore said. “Preservation is a key factor in living in the district, and that’s our first priority. Even still, from our perspective, we are often more lenient than the staffing department and even RAP.”
He said while cost often comes up, only a handful of people have ever evoked the 20 percent provision.
Anonymous thinks many homeowners either did not know about the provision or simply renovated without proper permits. Both instances would skew the city’s COA approval statistics, as would not knowing the full extent of each COA approval, such as, how many windows were approved.
“People should ask if removing this ordinance was good or bad; if it will serve the district or not. The decision to remove the provision should at least be put up for consideration to the homeowners that it is affecting.”
Crisp agrees that the homeowner should have the final say.
“Most people who buy into the historic district do so because they are absolutely in love with their homes and the district’s architecture,” Crisp said. “They would not do anything to harm their house. Because of that, they are the home’s best stewards.”