Meeting Minutes

Establishing a

College Hill Conservation District

September 12, 2019

 

A meeting to begin discussing specific regulations for a Conservation District in Easton’s College Hill neighborhood was held at the College Hill Presbyterian Church on Thursday, September 12, 2019.

 

21 people were present.

View the slide presentation here 

The meeting began at 7 pm. Discussion was as follows:

Paul Felder reviewed the results of the previous College Hill Conservation District meeting (June 27, 2019) along with background information that was provided at that meeting. (Slides 1-13) He noted that the conservation district in Pottstown, PA appears to be the most comprehensive such ordinance in the state. The format of tonight’s meeting will be to have a group discussion of the Pottstown ordinance on a clause-by-clause basis, to begin developing recommendations as to their appropriateness as-is or with modifications for a College Hill ordinance.

The discussions were led by Tom Jones. (Note: due to repetitions in Pottstown’s ordinance, the discussion did not always follow the topics in the accompanying slides. For clarity, those comments have been moved in these minutes to the most appropriate section. Also, votes on specific items were by show of hands: abstentions or non-votes were not counted.) Following were the items considered:

Demolition. (Please see attached, slide 14, for a description of the Pottstown example.)

  • After Pottstown requirements were explained, a question was asked about who would make a ruling in Easton on any given application for a demolition permit. That has not been determined, although a preliminary discussion with the Planning Commission last winter indicated that the Planning Commission might be the body to make such a ruling (presumably following City staff review and recommendation, as happens on zoning, subdivision and similar issues).

  • Regarding potential review fees, the suggestion was made that fees for review of demolition permit requests either be kept relatively low, waived altogether or adjusted based on the size and complexity of the application.

  • It is recommended that in the interest of preserving as many buildings as possible, technical assistance regarding suitability of a property for demolition or means to repair/restore it be provided at little or no cost.

  • The point was made that creating conservation districts is not an anti-Lafayette College movement but part of a city-wide effort at preserving Easton’s history and the character of its neighborhoods. It was explained that at a College Hill meeting in 2016, Mayor Panto stated that the best way to preserve neighborhoods was to create some sort of historic districts. Conservation districts do that, but controlled more on a local level than based on federal regulations (such as are in effect in Easton’s downtown National Register Historic District). Neighborhood discussions similar to those on College Hill are ongoing in the South Side and West Ward.

  • After discussion, the group was asked to vote on whether or not they were in favor or opposed to regulating demolition on College Hill, modelled on the Pottstown ordinance. (Voting was limited to College Hill residents only.) The vote was 15 in favor, zero opposed.

Architectural Style: Existing Buildings. (Slide 15)

  • Specific design regulations are spelled out later in these minutes. The discussion here revolved around the issues of having design guidelines at all, and if guidelines are established making them mandatory (designated in Pottstown by use of “shall”) or recommended (“should”). Everyone favored having guidelines. The group was asked to vote: there was one vote in favor of establishing mandatory design standards for existing buildings; all other votes were for recommending design standards.

Architectural Style: New Buildings. (Slide 16)

  • The point was made that although some new buildings on College Hill have been terribly designed, there is a danger that over-regulation, or even design suggestions that are too limited, may prevent the possibility of having good, creative architectural designs.

  • After an extended discussion, there was no consensus on whether new building design should be regulated strictly, by recommendations only or not at all. The matter of regulations governing new building design will be revisited.

Placement of New Buildings. (Slides 17 and 18)

  • It was noted that Easton’s zoning ordinance already covers setbacks, with neighborhood-appropriate standards. Easton does not have specific guidelines discussing the size of new buildings relative to adjacent buildings. There was no interest in making changes to Easton’s current setback or building mass requirements.

Building Height. (Slides 19 and 20)

  • No changes from the requirements of Easton current building height regulations were proposed.

Base, Body, Cap: Existing Buildings. (Slide 21)

  • There was no support for Pottstown-type regulations governing existing buildings.

Base, Body, Cap: New Buildings. (Slide 22)

  • Discussion of potential design standards, or not, for new buildings was deferred until a later meeting.

Door and Window Openings: Existing Buildings. (Slide 23)

  • There was general agreement that doors and windows “shall” be replaced by elements of the same size as the originals. However, requirements should NOT dictate the material and/or quality of the replacement: guidelines should recommend that they be as similar as possible to original openings.

  • The point was made that it is important the public understand that a conservation district ordinance will NOT require the use of expensive materials such as are often mandated in a National Historic District.

  • Guidelines should follow Pottstown in that they apply only to facades facing public streets. Otherwise, they can be recommendations only.

  • A concern was raised about the potential need for larger openings (particularly on upper floors) needed for fire egress. In many cases, this can be resolved by using a casement window (single large opening) that is trimmed to look like an original double hung window. Guidelines should recommend this.

Door and Window Openings and Building Form: New Buildings. (Slides 24, 25)

  • Discussion of potential design standards, or not, for new buildings was deferred until a later meeting.

Material, Texture and Pattern: Existing Buildings. (Slide 26)

  • There was general agreement that language similar to Pottstown’s be included in the new ordinance. Pottstown describes renovation details similar to the original building. It was not determined if such standards be required or recommended. This will be revisited.

Material, Texture and Pattern: New Buildings. (Slide 27)

  • Discussion of potential design standards, or not, for new buildings was deferred until a later meeting.

Additions. (Slide 28)

  • There was general agreement that standards cover additions, and an extended discussion of whether or not standards should be mandated or recommended. A vote was taken: there were 12 votes in favor of requiring standards, 3 votes in favor of recommending standards regarding the design of additions.

Porches. (Slide 29)

  • By a vote of 14 to zero, it was agreed that standards similar to Pottstown for porch renovations “shall” be required.

Fences and Walls. (Slide 30)

  • There was general agreement that standards cover fences and walls along the line of Pottstown regulations. A vote was taken: there were 8 votes in favor of requiring standards, 5 votes in favor of recommending standards regarding the design of fences and walls. In view of the closeness of the vote, this topic will be revisited.

The next discussion topic concerned establishing boundaries for a College Hill Conservation District. An Easton zoning map was explained (Slide 31). Individual existing districts were considered as follows:

  • There was general agreement that the College Hill (CH) at least up to the Coleman Street area on both sides of Lafayette Street (e.g. sections already included in the College Hill Residential Historic District), College Hill Institutional-Transitional (CH/INS-1 T) and Cattell Street overlay (shown in blue) Districts all be included in the Conservation District. [Note: for legal reasons, College Hill residents Laura Nielsen, Janis Black and Paul Felder recused themselves from this part of the discussion.]

  • An argument was made for including the section of the CH District west of the Residential Historic District, based on historic items and natural resources in this area. No decision was reached.

  • Arguments were made for including the Adaptive Reuse (AR) Districts west of the CH District, north of Bushkill Drive and west of 13th Street. No decision was reached.

  • No one suggested including the INS-1 District (Lafayette College).

  • It was pointed out that the section of the RC District south of Bushkill Creek (Easton Cemetery) is not historically part of College Hill.

  • Discussion of the RC District along the Delaware River (including Nevin Park) was deferred due to lack of time.

  • It was agreed that a discussion of boundaries based on the above should be continued at a future meeting. 

An outline of future actions (Slide 32) was briefly reviewed. In the interest of the adhering to the proposed time schedule, the meeting was adjourned at 8:45 pm.

Tom and Paul said they would follow up with further meetings and discussions to continue this process.

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