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Historic Preservation FAQ

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What is the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC)?

The Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) is a local review agency of Princeton. HPC reviews preservation plans filed with the Office of Historic Preservation. Its purpose is to promote historic preservation, recommend designation of historic properties, and review projects for development in locally designated historic districts in Princeton. The Commission is a citizen body appointed by the governing body whose members serve without pay. Its members have a range of knowledge of architecture, architectural history, cultural history, landscape design, and/or archaeology. 

While the Office of Historic Preservation has on file research materials pertinent to its purpose, it does not serve as a library or research organization. This is a function served more by other organizations such as the Historical Society of Princeton, a private entity, located at the Updike Farmstead, 354 Quaker Road, Princeton.

 

What is a preservation plan?

A preservation plan outlines how a structure or site improvements in a local designated historic district or buffer zone will be altered. The preservation plan includes the application form, architectural detail drawings, photographs, specifications, and may include a site plan or other details. A preservation plan should be filed with the Office of Historic Preservation.

 

When do you need preservation plan approval?

An applicant must file a preservation plan when exterior work is proposed on existing structures on the property, or a new construction is contemplated. In certain historic districts, approval is needed when the applicant wishes to paint a house a different color than the existing color. The applicant does not need to file a preservation plan if ordinary maintenance is being done. However, in that instance, the owner should check with the Office of Historic Preservation to confirm that a preservation plan is not needed and also with the zoning and building departments to determine if permits are required.

 

What is ordinary maintenance?

The replacement of any deteriorated, damaged, or non-functioning structure or feature with same material, color, and dimensions.

 

How do you file for preservation plan approval?

An applicant files a preservation plan and submits three copies to the Office of Historic Preservation, located in the Zoning Department. The filing fees $75. Depending on the scope of the project, the preservation plan can be approved administratively by the Historic Preservation Officer and HPC Chair, or by the full HPC. (If the application is part of a development application for site plan or subdivision, the administrative officer of that application has a 45 day review period for completeness. If the application can be approved administratively, the Historic Preservation Officer has fifteen calendar days to review the application for completeness.  If the preservation plan request a full HPC review, the Historic Preservation Officer prepares a report for the Commission and the application is scheduled on the agenda of the next available Commission meeting. The preservation plan is reviewed and discussed and a public hearing is conducted on the plan. It is suggested that the applicant or a representative attend the hearing. Applications are on file and are available for public inspection at least ten (10) days before the date of the hearing.

 

Can I have my preservation plan approved administratively?

A preservation plan may be approved administratively when the Historic Preservation Officer determines that the preservation plan conforms to the requirements of the Historic Preservation Ordinance, and will not have a significant impact. The Historic Preservation Officer with the concurrence by the Chair of the Historic Preservation Commission may approve the application without a review by the full HPC. Certain changes in an approved preservation plan for projects currently underway may also be approved administratively.

 

What if I want to run my ideas by the HPC?

You can file a concept plan with the Historic Preservation Office to be placed on the HPC meeting. The Commission will informally comment on the plan at the meeting. There is no fee required and no comments or plans are binding.

 

Do I need a zoning permit for the work I want to do? 

Only if you propose to build an exterior structure or add to an exterior structure. It is also required if you wish to change the use of rooms in the interior. The applicant is asked to file a zoning permit application along with the preservation plan application in order to insure that there are no variances in the proposed plan.

 

What if I want to plant a tree?

Landscape is under review of the Historic Preservation Commission. The purpose of the Ordinance is not to restrict an owner from gardening or landscaping. It is recommended that the applicant reach out to the Historic Preservation Officer to determine if the improvements will require an application.

 

What if I want to paint my house?

Certain historic districts (type 2) do not require approval for painting on already painted structures. Those properties that require approval (type 1) will need a preservation plan which is usually done as an administrative approval.

What if I want to demolish a structure or part of a structure?

If the demolition of a structure or part of a structure in a historic district is proposed, it shall be approved only if the structure cannot be put to a reasonable use. The applicant must apply to the Historic Preservation Commission for approval of the demolition.

 

Do I need to hire professionals to present my plan to the Historic Preservation Commission?

An individual owner may present a preservation plans to the Commission. However, the building department or zoning department may require certain professionals to prepare plans or documents for the proper permits.

 

What is the public hearing?

A public hearing is a meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission, publicly advertised, at which the preservation plan is reviewed. After a presentation of the application, the Chair of the Commission opens up the hearing to the public for comment. At the hearing, an individual may appear or be represented by an attorney. The applicant may also give power of attorney to an individual or a professional such as an architect.

How do I get my plan approved?

The preservation plan is approved during the public hearing by the review of the Commission. The Commission studies the report of the Historic Preservation Officer and reviews the application according to the Secretary of the Interior Standards (standards published by the US Department of the Interior) and the Princeton ordinance. The body then votes on the plan and issues a written document called a Resolution which outlines the approval or disapproval and any conditions that it may have imposed.

It is important to note that the Ordinance states that the criteria and standards in the ordinance are intended to provide a framework within which the designer of the improvement is free to exercise creativity, invention, and innovation. The HPC Ordinance states that a preservation plan be approved only if the proposed action (which may be modified by conditions of the reviewing agency)

  • is compatible with the existing structures and landscape of the historic district;
  • would not adversely affect the ambiance, character, and appearance of the historic preservation zoning district and the relationships among structures and between structures and public ways in the district;
  • would not adversely affect the exterior architectural features and setting of the structure and its historical and architectural interest; and
  • is consistent with the criteria and standards of the ordinance. (10B-272.4)

What do I do if I need a zoning variance for a single family house?

A single family homeowner in a historic district needing a zoning variance has to request relief from the ordinance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment. An owner prepares an application that includes the zoning variance application as well as a preservation plan. The application is subject to a 45 day completeness review period. The Historic Preservation Officer prepares a report to the Historic Preservation Commission. The Commission reviews the application and makes recommendations to the Zoning Board. The HPC, in this instance, has an advisory function. Final approval of the preservation plan as well as any variance granted would be by the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

 

What if my plan is not approved and I disagree with the HPC’s recommendations?

The owner may appeal within ten (10) days to the Planning Board. The appeals process is outlined in the Ordinance.

 

How does Princeton designate a historic district?

Areas of study for districts are outlined in the Princeton Community Master Plan. When an area is chosen for study as a district, a letter will be mailed to owners in the area of study which outlines the following:

  • The HPC is researching the area for historic data.
  • An architectural survey will be performed by a consultant who may be seen surveying the area of study along with staff and HPC members.
  • The letter will ask the owner for any known historical facts pertaining to the study area or of any persons who may be interested in providing historic information.

After the study is completed, the proposed boundaries of the district are drawn. The survey will be reviewed by the HPC. The HPC holds a public hearing on the proposed boundaries. Notice of this hearing is included on the HPC agenda, and a letter is sent to all property owners in the area of study inviting them to the hearing. Public comments on the proposed designation are welcomed by the HPC at the hearing. After the public's input, the HPC deliberates and may pass a resolution to recommend to the governing body that a district be created.

If a district is recommended for designation, the Princeton Attorney is instructed to prepare an ordinance for introduction by the governing body on the proposed district. The introduced ordinance is referred to the Planning Board for comment. Princeton conducts a public hearing. The introduced ordinance returns to the governing body for final review and consideration. If adopted, the district is designated.

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