By FRAN MAYE
Early next year, Kennett Square council will reconsider an ordinance that will significantly change the boundaries and regulations of the borough’s Historic Commission and Architectural Review Board.
Council in July soundly defeated a proposed ordinance that would have made it more restrictive for people living in the borough’s Historic District. Since then, some members of council re-tweaked the ordinance, and solicited input from borough residents.
At a public hearing Wednesday night, some residents said they were still unhappy with the draft of the proposed changes.
Essentially, the new proposed ordinance would make three major changes to the one defeated earlier this year. It would create two districts, an “A” and a “B” district with the “A” district having a higher level of scrutiny. It would also allow for an economic hardship, and it would provide administrative ability for officials to instantly issue a certificate of appropriateness for residents seeking to make changes with similar building material.
The “A” district would be expanded to include a section on Union Street from the borough line at Kennett Township into the main historic district. Residents whose houses fall in the “B” district would face much less stringent requirements, limiting them to the principal façade of the building facing the street, with free-standing structures excluded from HARB review. The decision whether to include carriage houses and garages is still under consideration.
The economic hardship provision was written into the proposed ordinance to help those who are least able to afford it.
“If you can demonstrate to the HARB that it’s financially unfeasible to do improvements, then HARB is required to let you do whatever you want to do,” said Ray Ott, task force member and a professional consultant specializing in land planning, historic preservation and regional planning. ‘if you want to replace wood siding or brick and put in vinyl, and you demonstrate that it’s not financially feasible to do anything but, this ordinance requires HARB to give you a permit.”
Jennifer Duffy, a borough resident, said she has serious reservations about the proposed ordinance.
“Homeowners purchase their home with the intent of keeping them nice and keeping with the general idea,” she said. “Can’t I do something to my house that I pay the mortgage on? I have a problem with this.”
Council President Dan Maffei, a proponent of the proposed ordinance, said the intention of the measure is that it not be too restrictive.
“Whether this ordinance tells people what they can and can’t do with their property, we can argue that all day long,” he said. “Hopefully, we can all agree we want to keep our town nice. That’s what we are trying to define. We want to have an ordinance that is objective and predictable, not something that is up to some capricious interpretation of a vague rule. We are trying to protect the architectural integrity of our town.”
Duffy said she felt government shouldn’t interfere with people who want to make positive changes to the home they pay for.
“Our town is 150 years old,” she said. “Through those 150 years, buildings have morphed and changed and added to and taken away from, and we all have been just fine with that because people take pride in their homes,” she said. “We don’t live in 1865. This is 2013. We need to be progressive.”
Ott said that new construction is exempt from many of the HARB restrictions.
“If you want to put an addition on your building and want to make it art deco, that’s fine,” he said.
But residents living in Zone “A” still face ARB restrictions on what type of material can be used in reconstruction. Often times, cheaper yet longer-lasting material like vinyl is banned.
“What I have a problem with is when you tell me you can’t use these materials and you can’t change the style of your house,” Duffy said. “I’ve seen homes that have complete style changes and look beautiful. With these restrictions, I’m afraid people will be afraid to renovate or modernize their property.”
Under the proposed ordinance, the new HARB review board must consist of not fewer than seven members appointed by borough council, and one must be a registered architect, one a licensed real estate broker, one a building inspector, and the remaining must have knowledge of the history of Kennett Square or knowledge of the building trade, and must be residents of Kennett Square.
The proposed ordinance will be posted on the borough’s web site by Jan. 10, 2014, and council is slated to vote on it March 3, 2014.