PHLF Opposes Burgess Proposal on City Historic Designations
Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess has proposed legislation that seeks to change how citizens can nominate houses, important buildings and landmarks, or even entire neighborhoods for designation as city historic landmarks or districts. Unlike National-Register designations, City historic designations establish a regulatory process for the review of the exterior appearance of all buildings that are designated (either individually or as part of a district).The Historic Review Commission (HRC) must review and approve all visible exterior alterations, including demolitions, new construction, and additions.
At its core, the proposed legislation, now before the City’s HRC, would make it impossible for the public to nominate individual buildings or landmarks for designation without the consent of the property owner. It would also require that a petitioner seeking to nominate a cluster of buildings for designation as a City-designated historic district attain 70 percent support—up from the current requirement of 25 percent—of the residents in the given area, which would make historic district designation much more difficult to attain.
We oppose this legislation because we believe it will stifle public interest in the nomination and designation of our significant historic architecture. Over the last five decades here in Pittsburgh, evidence has shown that the designation of historic buildings and the creation of historic districts is a positive way to help preserve, sustain, and build community. Allegheny West, the Mexican War Streets, and Schenley Farms, among many other historic districts, are desirable places to live today.
It has been our experience that City historic building designations and historic districts, when initiated through an educational, public process, not only help build pride in our communities, but improve and protect property investment, foster neighborhood identity, and promote economic development through recruitment of new businesses.
We also believe in working out practical solutions for designated structures, so that historic designation need not be a burden to property owners as they seek to enhance and preserve their living spaces.
While Councilman Burgess singles out historic preservation as something that should require owner consent, to our knowledge that has not been done regarding other zoning and planning requirements that the City has imposed on property owners.
Recently, Pittsburgh has been singled out as one of the eleven best cities internationally in which to live and work, wholly because of historic preservation. Councilman Burgess’ plan could deprive us of that international distinction. So we ask the question again: Why single out the City historic designation process, and not apply the same standard to the other requirements that the City imposes on owners?