Workshop helps dispel rumors about historic renovations process

When Rick Pariani and his wife, Susan Painter, bought their 1927 two-story home on Avondale Avenue in early 2017, they had some ideas for renovating the 2,200-square-foot structure. Despite hearing the process for getting a Certificate of Approval (COA) from the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission (JHPC) was tricky at best, contentious and expensive worst case, Pariani said it was the smoothest process he’s ever gone through.

Pariani, a newly-elected board member of Riverside Avondale Preservation (RAP), was one of more than two dozen who attended a RAP-sponsored workshop about the COA process.

Nancy Powell, RAP board chair, kicked off the March 15 meeting at Riverside Presbyterian Church’s Bittinger Hall by explaining RAP’s role is education and advocacy, not decision- making – a common misconception by owners of historic homes who have struggled with the COA process.

The workshop was led by Christian Popoli, a member of the City of Jacksonville’s Planning and Development Department. He took the audience through the nuts and bolts of COA application, explaining when COAs are and are not required, and where, citing Riverside, Avondale, the St. John’s Quarter, and Springfield, as well as for work on any structure designated a landmark.

The historic planning staff relies on two sets of rules to determine what’s appropriate when it comes to repairs, renovations and restorations: The Secretary of the Interior Standards (SOIC) and the Historic District guidelines, said Popoli, however, “the guidelines are not a playbook. We prefer the homeowner restore over replace, use like materials over modern, and remain sensitive to the house, the neighbors and the district.”

Pariani said what made his COA application a breeze was the time spent upfront with RAP and with Popoli to go over every aspect of what he and Painter intended to do. He acknowledged some ideas were shot down but said “the result was the better for it.”

Popoli walked the audience through the online application process and then answered questions from the group. Angela Schifanella, another newly-elected RAP board member and former commissioner with the JHPC, also contributed to the discussion. She explained the planning staff prepares an in-depth report and makes a recommendation to accept the request as is, accept with changes, or deny it. “The commission can override the staff recommendation,” she said.

Because RAP has standing with the City’s planning and zoning committees and commissions, the preservation group often weighs in on a proposed change to both new and historic structures in the district.

While there is no requirement to involve RAP in the COA process, it is encouraged. “We look at macro issues, with an eye for the long term preservation of the district,” said Powell.

For information about applying for a Certificate of Appropriateness, visit www.coj.net/departments/planning-and-development/community-planning-division/default/certificate-of-appropriateness-process.

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