A Metro Council member is proposing to limit the Historic Preservation Commission’s ability to interfere with the ability of property owners to make changes to their own homes and businesses.
Councilman Ryan Heck is proposing a one-year moratorium on the commission’s authority to approve “Certificates of Appropriateness.” Those are permits required for renovating, altering the aesthetics or changing the landscape of properties in the parish’s two historical districts, Spanish Town and Drehr Place in the Garden District.
Heck said he’s speaking up for property owners, developers and business owners who he said are frustrated by the commission’s interference in what they do with their private property, such as renovations, landscaping, putting up fences, painting the exterior of a house or changing the front door.
The Historic Preservation Commission argues the certificates give it the ability to help preserve the historic appeal of the neighborhoods. At a meeting Thursday commission members categorically rejected the idea of a one-year moratorium on their ability to enforce neighborhood standards in designated, historic districts.
Commission Chairwoman Carolyn Bennett said the commission has considered only 46 COAs in the past nine years and just two were rejected.
The two rejected this year involved a homeowner who wanted to put a fence in, and developer Richard Preis who removed a water oak from his property, because he said it had been struck by lightning and posed a danger to his neighboring property.
Bennett said it is rare for the commission to reject a permit application, but Heck said he is skeptical of those numbers.
Heck said many applicants end up withdrawing their applications after becoming frustrated with the process.
The councilman’s resolution proposes that the Planning Commission, which is the parent organization of the Historic Preservation Commission, be put in charge of approving COAs while the moratorium is in place.
While the moratorium is in place, he said, the powers and duties of the Historic Preservation Commission can be re-evaluated, and design guidelines for historic districts can be revised.
Members of the preservation commission expressed skepticism that the state law would allow the Planning Commission to issue COAs, saying the Planning Commission lacks expertise in historical preservation.
Commission members also discussed the potential of losing their certification, which makes them eligible for tax credits.
Heck first expressed concern about the Preservation Commission last month, after the Metro Council rescinded a fine and appealed a decision made about Preis’s decision to remove the water oak in Spanish Town.
Preis told the Metro Council the commission was making decisions based on personal vendettas because of his other developments in the area.
On Thursday the Historic Preservation Commission unanimously voted to oppose the moratorium, but instead offered to re-evaluate the makeup of its board and possibly add more seats that would be reserved for experts and members of the Planning Commission or Metro Council.
The HPC also agreed to remove the fees associated with filing a Certificate of Appropriateness, which previously ranged from $50 to $200.
The commission also agreed to hold a meeting for the public, to field questions and concerns about its role and the design requirements property owners must adhere to in the historic districts.
Heck said after the meeting that he still supports a moratorium. He said he did support the commission’s decision to remove the COA fees, which he said were onerous deterrents to property owners wanting to make simple changes to their homes.
“That’s great if they want to get rid of the fees, I support them 100 percent,” he said. “It sounds like they’re being facilitators.”
Heck’s proposal hasn’t been placed on the council agenda yet but he said he expects it to be heard this month.