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Heritage Commission’s Hardship Standards May Be Amended With Further Research

City of Ste. Genevieve Heritage Commission members met on July 15 to discuss the application of financial hardship consideration.

The commission met on its usual monthly meeting date even though there were no requests for certificates of appropriateness to review.

 Commission members planned to hammer out a consensus on the concept of financial hardship. In the end, the commission didn’t take direct action on the financial side but voted to have David Bova, the city’s community development administrator, research the possible rewording of the city’s standards for review.

Bova said he had done some research on how other cities have addressed the issue of property owners who claim they cannot afford to meet the design guidelines for historic districts.

Bova said he looked at some towns in the region and at New Orleans and Philadelphia.

Bova said a hardship can be claimed if a certificiate of appropriateness is denied “and the owner believes we are denying them a reasonable use of their property.”

Many of the communities Bova studied had ordinances very similar to Ste. Genevieve’s.

In Missouri, the city of Hermann has an ordinance “virtually word for word” the same, he said, while Independence only flags “denied reasonable use.” St. Charles says work should be “economically feasible,” but offers no specifics, and St. Louis  requires “the availability of economically feasible alternatives” for property owners.

New Orleans, Bova said, has two paths.

“One is a variance that would have to be due to some sort of undue hardship,” Bova said. “So, topographical layout of the land, or you inherit the land, not knowing what was wrong with it — something you didn’t create.”

The second path is an unnecessary  hardship exemption, “which is almost solely based on income level or financial means or lack thereof,” Bova said. This requires “valid proof” to be submitted.

Philadelphia also has two processes to claim economic hardship. One is to claim reasonable use of their property is being denied, which, Bova said, is essentially what the Ste. Genevieve ordinance has now. The second path is “unnecessary hardship,” very similar to that in New Orleans.

“Typically low- or moderate-income people would provide documentation to prove they can’t afford the work required by the guidelines,” Bova said.

He said the Philadelphia guidelines allow these hardship exemptions “as long as the preservation of basic form and rhythm still meet the objectives.”

Bova said the New Orleans and Philadelphia hardship ordinances are what the group has been discussing recently.

The topic surfaced on April 15, when local historian and historic home owner Bob Mueller addressed the commission during the public comment section. He suggested the commission has allowed too many applicants to use less expensive materials simply because they didn’t want to spend the extra money to meet design guidelines.

See complete story in the July 24 edition of the Herald.

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