What the heck is going on with the Overbrook Farms Historic District? Everything and nothing, apparently.
The Historical Commission has been working on creating a local historic district for Overbrook Farms for years
at the behest of the Overbrook Farms Club
. But when notice finally came that the district was coming up for designation, some residents felt blindsided
. The Commission has twice honored requests – from Fourth District Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr. [pdf] and most recently from Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger
[pdf] – to hold off on voting on the Overbrook Farms Historic District. Greenberger asked for the proposal to be tabled so that his office could get up to speed on the debate surrounding the proposed district. So, as JoAnn Greco reported
for PlanPhilly, the Historical Commission suspended the designation of Overbrook Farms indefinitely, promising to take the matter up “in the near future.”
So, what’s at play here? Pure politics? Development interests? Honest confusion?
Is it possible that City Council is renewing its occasional interest in having final approval for proposed historic districts? I’ve seen that scenario at work in other cities and the politics get ugly, and I have seen the long-term protection of historic resources lose out to perceived short-term gain of specific development proposals that may never happen. Historic district designations are supposed to be decided on the merit and integrity of the resource, not by some political calculation. So let’s get this one right: Overbrook Farms meets seven of the ten criteria Philadelphia uses to determine eligibility for designation. Like other planning decisions, historic designation is about thinking long-term and should not be given lightly. By all of these measures, the designation should be a slam dunk.
As the Daily News
, institutions like the Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia own several buildings within the proposed district boundaries. So perhaps there are development interests at play here. Historic districting can be compatible with institutional growth. Designation just means that exterior changes would require a permit and demolition would not be an option.
The most likely reason that the Overbrook Farms Historic District has stalled out is a communication breakdown. It’s entirely possible that since 2004 the residents who supported the Overbrook Farms Club’s push to become a district have moved or interest has waned. Admittedly, the Overbrook Farms Club and Historical Commission did not do their best keeping residents in the loop during the long road to designation. So residents were surprised
when the received a letter from the Commission requiring them to abide by city’s preservation regulations while designation was considered. (This is standard practice to prevent speedily acquired demolition permits or incompatible alterations snuck in under the wire.) To be fair, proposed historic districts in Philadelphia do not come up every day. It’s normal that the process and consequences of designation would feel foreign.