Preservationist's curse Districts Townships The 60 municipalities in Lancaster County handle zoning and preservation issues in their own ways Preservationist's curse Districts Townships INSIDE:
VANISHING HISTORICAL ARCHITECTURE: WHO IS RESPONSIBLE? -- PART 3 Last of three parts, , BY JACK BRUBAKER, Staff Writer
Planners occasionally refer to this state's fragmented local government system as "Pennsylvania's curse.'' Each governmental unit does its own thing, complicating efforts to plan for regional change.
Pennsylvania's curse also might be called the preservationist's curse.
Lancaster County has 60 municipalities.
Those municipalities have 60 ways of handling zoning and preservation issues. The result of that hodge-podge of regulations is obvious throughout the county
Compare East Lampeter Township's history-stripped tourist strip along Route 30 East, for instance, with the scenic and historic Route 23 corridor from Blue Ball through Churchtown to Morgantown.
Lancaster preservationist Randy Harris views the same issue another way: "How do you want your community to evolve?'' he asked. "Do you want to be Quarryville, or do you want to be Lititz?''
Preservationists would prefer that all municipalities play by similar rules, administering zoning ordinances consistently so that historic buildings are protected everywhere.
But that's not the way it works.
The City of Lancaster and three county boroughs have large local historic districts with review boards to monitor them.
Beyond those towns, about a third of the county's municipalities have some type of zoning ordinances covering historic structures.
"But it's really hard to know how they're administering an ordinance,'' said Scott Standish, director of long-range and heritage planning for the Lancaster County Planning Commission.
"[A request to alter or demolish a historic structure] may go to the zoning officer or it may go on to the supervisors,'' he explained. "There may be ordinances that have no teeth and that don't accomplish anything.''
The other two-thirds of the municipalities have little or nothing more than a requirement for a property owner to obtain a demolition permit before tearing down any building.
If the building is old, some of those municipalities consult with preservationists before signing a permit. Some don't.
Some municipal officials believe property rights always take precedence. Others believe the community's larger interests should have bearing in some cases.
The fate of a building often depends on the quality of a municipality's rules governing preservation and the interest of municipal officials in enforcing those rules.
Here's how some towns and suburban and rural townships handle preservation issues.
(Policies and attitudes in Lititz Borough and Bart Township, representatives of extremes on the preservation scale, are explored in articles on Page A6.)
Lancaster, Strasburg, Columbia and Lititz have established historic districts under state guidelines. These districts also are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They encompass thousands of residences and other structures.
Historical Architectural Review Boards, or HARBs, sit in judgment on proposals for exterior modifications, including demolition, in all of the districts except Lititz, which has a slightly different system. Alterations include removing a porch or replacing wood windows with vinyl.
The point of monitoring these changes is to preserve the integrity of the historic districts. Methods of meeting that objective still draw occasional controversy decades after the historic districts were established.
A year ago, Strasburg Mayor Henry Miller, owner of property in the historic district, told the borough's HARB that he didn't appreciate the loss of liberty to do what he wants to do with his own house.
Miller wondered if HARB regulations were "really about control.''
But HARB members replied that most residents support the local historic district, which was formed in 1990 following the demolition of several historic buildings, including log cabins.
Residents spoke in favor of historic district regulations and the challenge passed.
The City of Lancaster has a much larger historic area and the potential for much greater friction between property owners and preservationists.
In addition to 11 distinct historic districts containing hundreds of homes, Lancaster has a Heritage Conservation District encompassing 13,000 more properties that make up most of the city.
This huge area, which comprises one of the nation's largest districts on the National Register of Historic Places, is monitored not by the HARB but by a Historical Commission.
The commission does not review all exterior alterations to properties, but it does review and approve all new construction or demolition projects that would make an impact on the appearance of the street or neighborhood.
This includes the addition of porches and balconies.
"We are not there to design projects for the people who are coming before us,'' explained Lois Groshong, chair of the Historical Commission. "We are not there to dictate what they can or cannot do.''
However, she added, the commission encourages new construction that "matches the rhythm of the existing buildings, whether residential or commercial; we just don't want to have jarring differences.''
In addition to the historic districts named above, other historic districts in Lancaster County are listed on the National Register of Historic Places but do not have HARBs or any similar monitoring agency at the local level.
Those districts are in Marietta and Manheim boroughs and the School Lane Hills development of Lancaster Township. Also, the Chickies Historic District, which encompasses parts of East Donegal and West Hempfield townships and Marietta Borough, designates sites associated with the county's early iron industry.
Listing on the National Register does not protect historic districts and individual structures from demolition. Beyond the prestige of being on the national list, the main advantage is eligibility for tax credits and grants.
Owners of buildings on the National Register are restricted in no way unless they accept federal funds for restoration. Otherwise, absent state or local preservation laws, they can alter or demolish their properties at any time.
Most of the townships surrounding the city have historic regulations in their zoning ordinances that help them deal with requests.
nBuilding preservation has been sacred in downtown Lititz since 1756. A6 nBart Township does not restrict historic property owners in any way. A6