After being dropped from the Historical Commission’s agenda last month, proposed rule changes to the city’s preservation hardship regulations remain on hold.
Jon Farnham, the Historical Commission’s executive director, circulated several proposed changes to the rules and regulations in early March. The most contentious was a proposal to remove a line from the hardship rules that requires owners to “attempt the sale of the property.”
As PlanPhilly’s Jared Brey reported, the Commission opted not to hear these rule changes in March, but preservation advocates were on high alert fearing that the Commission was considering weakening its own hardship test.
Farnham confirmed over email that this set of rule changes would be heard soon, but that a different rule change sought by the Law Department is the cause of the current delay. The Law Department wants to the Commission's rules to require a simple majority - not a supermajority (5 of 7 commissioners) as is currently required - in order to approve changes to the rules and regulations.
The proposed rule changes are not on the April agenda, Farnham explained, "because the Commission does not yet have a formal version of the Law Department's explanation of its nullification of the current super-majority requirement to amend the rules. Until that explanation is available, it would be imprudent to consider any amendments.”
The provision stipulating that owers must attempt the sale of the property has been at issue in the recent hardship appeals before the L&I Board of Review in the cases of 400 South 40th Street and Church of the Assumption. In a memo to the Commission Farnham explained that he hoped the change would bring the rules and regulations into alignment with the preservation ordinance, and encourage the L&I Review Board to defer to the commission's findings of hardship in the hopes of reducing appeals.
In light of the proposed hardship rule change the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia launched a petition asking the Commission to table the amendments to allow time for a broader public discussion about the impact of this change.
Ashley Hahn is an independent writer with a background in historic preservation and city planning. She started Eyes on the Street for PlanPhilly in 2011 and was PlanPhilly's managing editor from 2015-2017. Ashley has lived in 12 zip codes that she can think of, including neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and New York. She is a Philadelphian by choice.