City Outlines Plan to Boost Historic Preservation Efforts Following Report

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Photo by Melissa Romero

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After a two-year examination into saving Philly’s historic buildings, city officials on Thursday announced steps they think will bolster the city’s preservation efforts.

The announcement followed a report by the Historic Preservation Task Force, which Mayor Jim Kenney formed in April 2017. The task force, which includes architects, preservation activists, community representatives and city staff spent two years looking at various ways to support and save historic buildings in the city. They submitted an initial list of suggestions for public comment in December, and released a final report on their findings Thursday.

“The Task Force has given us short- and long-term recommendations to better preserve our City’s historic assets, and today we take the first steps to implement them,” Kenney said in a statement Thursday.

Among those first steps, Kenney announced plans to start a survey program to document the city’s historic resources; create two tiers of historic preservation in order to cover more buildings; form a Historic Preservation Policy team; and improve clarity and transparency in the historic designation process, according to the statement.

Kenney also announced plans to start looking into creating an index of properties that would need to be reviewed for historical significance prior to demolition; setting building code standards for historic properties; and looking at ways to honor “underground artifacts.”

Council member Mark Squilla, who represents the city’s historic first district, joined Kenney for the announcement Thursday, and said he plans to introduce legislation at City Council that will provide incentives for historic preservation. The incentives would include reduced parking requirements for historic buildings that get redeveloped; and allowing Accessory Dwelling Units on some residential historic properties. Another notable proposal that Squilla plans to bring forward would create two new types of historic districts.

The announcement and the report from the task force, come in the midst of several high-profile preservation efforts and historic building demolitions over the past few years. In many of the cases, churches have taken center stage.

In February, a demolition permit was secured for the Frank Furness-designed work, the 19th Street Baptist Church. Despite its historic designation, the church has started crumbling (quite literally) over the past few years, raising concerns about safety.

Last summer, another 19th-century church, the Christian Street Baptist Church, was demolished amid controversy.

Kenney’s announcement touched on many of the 33-person task force’s recommendations, but didn’t cover all of the suggestions Thursday. Included in the report were calls for a preservation liaison who would create a relationship between developers and community members; changes to the Philadelphia Historical Commission’s processes; and advocating for more outreach and education regarding historic buildings and sites in Philly.

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