Meeting Minutes

Establishing a

West Ward Conservation District

December 10, 2019

 

A public meeting to continue discussing specific regulations for a Conservation District in Easton’s West Ward neighborhood was held at the Easton Area Community Center on December 10, 2019.

  • Important note: In February 2019, the Easton Conservation District Committee was instructed by the Easton Planning Commission to coordinate all of its efforts with any proposed ordinance revisions to be developed in the coming months by Easton’s planning and code staff. A draft of the staff’s proposed revisions was made public on November 6, 2019. A subsequent cursory review indicates that the Committee is looking at some items—such as regulations governing demolition—that are NOT included in the City’s draft, but there are other items being considered by the Committee—such as regulations governing walls on property lines or porch enclosures—that are not only covered in the City’s draft, but may have MORE STRINGENT guidelines than proposed by the Committee. A meeting with City officials to address any discrepancies in proposed Conservation District ordinances (or to eliminate any items that are more comprehensively or appropriately covered by the City) will probably be sought early in 2020.


Here is information from the City’s website [www.Easton-pa.com] containing links to the City’s proposed changes:

 



 

 

The Conservation District meeting began at 7:30 pm. Discussions were led by architectural historian/planner Tom Jones. A copy of the visual presentation is attached to these minutes and posted at www.EastonConservationDistricts.com

The presentation began with a review of the role played by conservation districts in other Pennsylvania municipalities and their potential value to the West Ward. (See presentation, slides 1-9.) The discussion then addressed the major issues that had not been resolved in previous West Ward meetings:

Design Regulations for New Construction. (Slides 10-13) The nature of any regulations was discussed as follows:

  • Guidelines might be focused on what cannot be done rather than what must be done.

  • “You can never restrict all the bad ideas.”

  • Let’s have a palette of permitted materials and require that the “rhythm” (openings, proportions, etc.) of the façade be regulated, but not the architectural style.

  • Historically, homes [in the West Ward and elsewhere] were built intuitively: scale is important.

  • Based on these and comments from previous meetings, and the unanimous consensus that design standards for new construction should be required, it was agreed that sufficient background has been provided to allow drafting of ordinance language addressing design regulations for new construction. (See below for future steps to be taken in this regard.)

  • A question was asked whether or not the district regulations would include specific language fostering adaptive reuse. It was noted that the regulations governing demolition (approved at a previous meeting) implicitly required that adaptive reuse efforts be made before any demolition could be permitted. (This issue, of course, does not apply to properties with no structures on them, which would be governed by the design regulations for new construction.)

 

Administering a Conservation District

  • The value of providing professional guidance to property owners was advocated, though it was pointed out that the language of a conservation district ordinance, like any ordinance, cannot rely on such advice being available without cost. Some funding for this kind of program is expected to be available in the West Ward.  

  • Several agencies and procedures were mentioned to administer a conservation district. These included the Easton Planning Commission (with review and recommendations from City staff, as is done with the zoning and subdivision ordinances, for example); the Historic Review Board; a local non-profit or public agency.

  • An ad-hoc committee of residents reporting to the Planning Commission or other agency was suggested. The point was made that this type of citizen participation has precedents in such things as Civilian Review Boards monitoring law enforcement.

  • It was noted that some previously funded Easton agencies, such as an Ethics Committee, no longer exist. Perhaps there is funding available for an agency to oversee conservation districts. (Pittsburgh was cited as a model city for empowering citizen participation in local governance.)

  • It was noted that any form of administration will require legal advice and that administrators must be given adequate training to fulfill their responsibilities.

Boundaries of a West Ward Conservation District. (Slides 14-15) The following areas were considered:

  • “The Flats,” the area between the bottom of the palisades (south of Butler or Elm Streets) and the Lehigh River, north of Lehigh Drive to the borough of West Easton. Much of this area is in the flood plain; much of it has environmental issues; some of it contains historically valuable sites. It was agreed that this area should be included in the district.

  • The former Pfizer site, south and west of the Bushkill Creek. This area is generally outside any flood plain, but much of it has significant environmental issues, and some of it contains historically valuable sites. It was agreed that this area should be included in the district, but the discussion included recognition that because of difficulties in redeveloping this site, the regulations might need to be different than elsewhere. It was suggested that perhaps a form of “bonus zoning” could be used, allowing greater densities or other benefits to developers who proposed keeping and restoring or repurposing historic structures.

  • Based on this and previous discussions, the proposed boundaries of a West Ward Conservation District will be everything in the City of Easton west of Sixth Street (extended to the Lehigh River) and south or west of Bushkill Creek. 

 

Review of previously agreed-upon standards. (Slides 16-22) In general, no modifications were proposed to previously agreed-upon regulations.

 

One clarifying suggestion was made: the section governing additions should clearly define when a structure is an addition versus a new building that is simply attached to an existing building.

 

Next steps. (Slide 24) The continuing process for creating a West Ward Conservation District was discussed. The next step will involve preparing a draft ordinance. There was agreement that ideally it would contain sketches and photographs (perhaps of both positive and negative examples), similar to the way it has been done in Pottstown, Bethlehem and other municipalities. The draft will be reviewed with City officials, revised and brought back to a public meeting in the neighborhood for further refinement before being presented to City officials to begin the approval process.

 

Please send comments and corrections to Paul Felder: pfelder@rcn.com

520 Sub-Division Land Development
595 Zoning Changes