A West Ward Historic Conservation District
DRAFT, rev 5
In February 2019, a group of Easton residents came before the Easton Planning Commission to propose that the City create a series of historic conservation districts in the West Ward, College Hill and South Side neighborhoods. Such districts are intended primarily to preserve the quality of life in communities by protecting historic buildings and affordable housing, promoting good design of new and existing structures, and encouraging adaptive reuse. Historic Conservation Districts are especially important in Pennsylvania, because of the abundance of unique historic neighborhoods. They have been successfully in place for years in cities such as Bethlehem, Lancaster, Pottstown and Pittsburgh.
The residents based their request on an awareness of Easton’s history since World War II. For over thirty years, beginning around 1950, the City lost population and generally declined in appearance, vitality and economic prosperity. These changes coincided with, and may have been partly caused by, the loss of many beautiful historic buildings. The construction of Route 22 through the downtown, the widening of Canal and St. John’s Street on the South Side, the poorly executed conversion of single family homes to apartments and most of all, the Urban Renewal projects downtown all contributed to Easton’s decline.
Conversely, in recent years, the City has seen a reversal of all these trends, at the same time there has been an upsurge in preservation efforts, spurred by the creation of a downtown National Historic District, the rehabilitation of the State Theatre, the adaptive reuse of the Simon Silk Mill, and many other projects.
Creation of Historic Conservation Districts could help continue this progress. The residents proposed to continue their own grass-roots efforts to develop ordinances by getting input from their neighbors, coordinating with City officials (who, coincidentally, are working on their own updates to Easton’s subdivision and zoning codes) and reporting back to the Planning Commission.
The Commissioners supported the idea, and since then, Historic Conservation District Committee members have held repeated public meetings in each neighborhood, worked through potential ordinance language with interested residents, and prepared this first draft ordinance for the West Ward. A proposed ordinance for College Hill will follow shortly. (It should be pointed out that because it has its own successful National Historic District, no such initiative is needed in Downtown Easton. Elsewhere, leaders of the Easton Area Neighborhood Center and the Boys and Girls Club of Easton expressed support for this effort on the South Side, but after meeting with South Side residents, committee members felt there was insufficient public interest to proceed with a South Side Historic Conservation District at this time. Perhaps as progress in the West Ward and College Hill continues, a further South Side effort will be attempted.)
This draft ordinance has been prepared by volunteers, working at their own expense. No public funds have been requested or used. We wish to thank the Boys and Girls Club of Easton, College Hill Presbyterian Church and the Easton Area Community Center for making their facilities available for public meetings, and the many members of the public who came to these meetings and provided numerous insights into the needs of their neighborhoods.
As this draft is vetted, we expect it to be revised with the input of City officials, the Easton Planning Commission and City Council, and the continued participation of the residents of Easton.
The draft of the proposed West Ward Historic Conservation District follows.
EASTON HISTORIC CONSERVATION DISTRICT COMMITTEE
Caron Anderson, Mary Arlia, Jim Bloom, Amy Boccadoro, Jeff Chaldny, Mike Cirasella, David Colley, Barbara Conover, Paul Felder, Lynn Fraser, Tom Jones, Eamon Kinsman, Peggy Palmer, Terrence Miller, Janet Robertson, Deb Van der Veer.
Post your comments
HISTORIC CONSERVATION DISTRICT
More than 90 percent of the buildings in the West Ward were constructed before World War II; most before 1910. Many of their exteriors are largely intact, and significant architectural details remain. Collectively, these structures give the West Ward its unique historic character and provide virtually all of its affordable housing and many of its neighborhood businesses. The purpose of this ordinance is to preserve the character and historic fabric of the West Ward, while allowing it to grow and change to meet the needs of its residents and the larger community.
To achieve these goals, this Ordinance establishes guidelines for the renovation of existing structures, including important features such as porches and fences, primarily where these elements face public streets. It also regulates demolition, with an eye towards encouraging rehabilitation and adaptive reuse rather than the destruction of buildings that add to character and quality of life in the West Ward. Finally, it establishes standards of design for new buildings, so that they will be compatible with their surroundings in a way that will maintain the values and integrity of the neighborhood.
This ordinance does not replace Easton’s land development, zoning or other codes, but works in tandem with them.
HISTORIC CONSERVATION DISTRICT
Definitions and Notes
A. Sections using the terms “shall” or “must” indicate requirements that may only be modified through a variance. Terms such as “should” or “may” indicate strong recommendations. Projects that do not follow these recommendations may not receive variances for other non-conforming aspects that do not meet Easton codes.
B. Unless otherwise noted, these regulations shall apply only to portions of structures visible from public rights-of-way. They do not apply to the facades, additions or fences of structures facing alleys (except for principal structures fronting on an alley) or to the side or rear facades of structures that are not visible from public rights-of-way or portions of such facades that are more than 20 feet from public rights-of-way.
C. Where requirements of this ordinance are in conflict or are not in agreement with other Easton ordinances, the most stringent regulation shall apply.
Easton’s neighborhoods have evolved with historic boundaries, but official designations often overlap with different borders, including wards (voting districts), zoning districts (which generally but don’t always identify clearly distinct residential, industrial and commercial areas), the Downtown National Historic District, the College Hill National Register Residential District, public school attendance areas and so on.
The boundaries of the West Ward Historic Conservation District are everything in the City of Easton west of Sixth Street (extended to the Lehigh River) and south or west of Bushkill Creek to the boundary between Easton and Wilson Borough or West Easton on the west.
Historic Conservation District
A. Renovation of existing buildings. The intent of this section is to preserve or restore the original architectural features of buildings as much as possible.
1. Original openings for doors and windows shall be replaced with items of a similar size and scale
2. Window and door openings that have been added, removed or modified from their original sizes and/or locations should be restored to their original placements and sizes if possible. Replacement of windows and doors with original materials, designs and window configurations is encouraged but is not required.
3. Original materials such as brick, stone, slate, wood, etc. should be repaired whenever possible or replaced with similar materials.
4. Veneers and sidings intended to “simulate” brick or stone shall not be permitted. Synthetic slate or materials intended to simulate wood or metal are permitted.
5. Original architectural features such as cornices and moldings should be repaired whenever possible or replaced with similar features. Property owners should seek to uncover such features that may have been encapsulated in order to expose and restore them, and also to prevent entrapment of water that can cause or hasten their deterioration.
B. Renovation of existing porches. Porches on many West Ward homes are important historic design elements. In general, they should be preserved as they were built, although occasionally it may be necessary to enclose one to provide additional living space. Modifications to existing porches are permitted as follows:
1. Front porches and side porches that face a street shall not be enclosed, except by glass or screens that leave intact the original elements of the porch — the open space, the railings, columns and roof.
2. When columns and railings need replacement, they shall be replaced with the same materials as the original or materials that are similar in appearance to the original. Wrought iron or aluminum columns shall not replace wooden elements. Wooden railings and columns shall be painted. While the restoration or exact replication of elaborate wooden details such as cornice moldings or railing spindles is encouraged, it is not required.
3. In some cases, building code officials may require that replacement porch railings be 42 inches high, versus the 24-36 inch height that is historically correct and most common in the West Ward. Property owners replacing lower railings may refer to this provision of the International Building Code: “3407.1 Historic Buildings The provisions of this code relating to the construction, repair, alteration, addition, restoration and movement of structures, and change of occupancy shall not be mandatory for historic buildings where such buildings are judged by the building official to not constitute a distinct life safety hazard.”
C. Preservation and renovation of existing fences. The West Ward has an exceptional number of historic cast iron fences, in front, side and rear yards. (Many such fences in other locations were melted down for scrap drives in wartime.)
1. Existing cast iron fences shall be preserved insofar as possible, and shall only be removed when property lines are altered or when repair and restoration is demonstrated to be unfeasible.
2. When the removal of a cast iron fence is required, it shall be offered for architectural salvage or made available for re-use in another location within the West Ward neighborhood.
2. Performance Standards. The West Ward Historic Conservation District is intended to promote not just historic preservation and compatible development, but construction that furthers other neighborhood objectives. Greater flexibility in design, density, parking or other requirements of this and other Easton codes may be permitted for projects that demonstrably offer community benefits in terms of any or all of the following:
a. Environmental design of buildings and sites in conformance with LEED, Green Globes or similar standards.
b. Site design that promotes development of open spaces for active or passive community use and absorption of ground water.
c. Encouraging and fostering the preservation or construction of affordable housing.
B. New Additions.
1. Additions shall be located so as to have the least possible impact from public rights-of-way.
2. Additions that are larger or higher than the structures to which they are attached, or are attached to structures built after 1940, shall be subject to the provisions of Article III.A. Particular attention should be paid to compatibility with attached structures
3. Additions to structures built before 1940 that in the opinion of the reviewing body retain much of their original character, shall be subject to the following:
a. Design shall employ materials, scale and proportions similar to the original structure to which it is attached. Within those standards, the architectural style may be similar to the original structure or may reflect sensitive architectural design practices.
b. Applicant shall graphically demonstrate how the design of the proposed structure relates to the original building to which it is attached.
C. New fences and walls. Traditionally, fences or walls in front yards have been short enough so people could easily talk over them. A height of 36-42 inches is recommended, but in keeping with other Easton codes, fences up to six feet high are permitted.
1. Maximum Height: 6 feet
2. Permitted fence or wall materials (property frontage only) are brick, stone, wood, ornamental iron, ornamental aluminum or steel designed to look like iron, vinyl designed to look like wood or iron, stucco over concrete block, capped with brick or stone.
3. Stockade (solid) fences over 42 inches high, walls of manufactured block materials larger than standard concrete masonry units or chain link fences are not permitted adjacent to front yards or side yards of corner properties abutting public rights-of-way. Exceptions may be made for stockade fences around swimming pools.
4. Interior side yard or rear yard walls or fences may be of any common fence material.
5. The most aesthetic side of fences shall face the exterior of properties.
A. New buildings. The intent of this section is to help ensure that new buildings are compatible with their surroundings.
1. Design Standards. Note that these standards do not regulate architectural style, but shall be followed for all principal new structures and accessory structures viewed from public rights-of-way;
a. Materials. Predominant materials shall be brick, stone, wood, glass and other materials common to structures built in the neighborhood prior to 1940, or new materials developed for purposes of energy efficiency. All commonly used roofing materials are permitted. Synthetic slate or materials intended to simulate wood or metal are permitted. Veneers and sidings intended to “simulate” brick or stone shall not be permitted. The use of horizontal vinyl or aluminum siding is discouraged but permissible on single or duplex residential structures only.
b. Height. New buildings shall be subject to the limitations defined in the Easton Zoning Code OR shall not be greater in height than fifteen feet above the average height of the existing buildings on the block fronting the proposed structure, whichever is less.
c. Scale. As established by size and proportion of openings, massing, projections and recesses, ratio of wall to openings, range of materials and other architectural features, scale shall be compatible with surrounding buildings located in visual proximity with the proposed structure.
d. Applicant shall graphically demonstrate how the design of the proposed structure relates to its surroundings based upon the requirements of these standards.
WEST WARD CONSERVATION DISTRICT
Among the most valuable features of the West Ward are its many historic buildings, which give the neighborhood its unique character, much of its affordable housing, and a vital connection to its past. The purpose of this Article is to protect these important structures. The demolition of any existing building or portion of a building constructed before 1940 is considered a last resort, only after the applicant can either:
A. Demonstrate that no other viable alternatives for reuse of the building exist. This would include:
1. An analysis of the building's adaptive reuse feasibility;
2. Evidence that no feasible reuse has been found within a twelve-month period;
3. Evidence that no sales or rentals have been possible during a twelve-month period of significant marketing; or
B. Demonstrate that demolition of a building is an unavoidable and an integral part of a construction scheme affecting a larger area than the building in question, which will, in the opinion of Easton’s reviewing bodies, provide substantial public benefit.