Procedures of the Mount Vernon Historic Preservation Commission
The ordinances of the City of Mount Vernon that established the Historic Preservation Commission direct that the Commission shall further the efforts of historic preservation by encouraging the protection and enhancement of historic districts and sites with historical architecture or cultural value and by encouraging persons and organizations to become involved in preservation activities.
In particular, permission for any change in appearance on the exterior of a building in an historic district (except for paint) must be initiated with application for a building permit and approval must be granted by the Historic Preservation Commission.
Chapter 165.1305 of the Mount Vernon Ordinances states that a change in appearance means the reconstruction or restoration of a structure, or any action to change any exterior feature of an existing structure.
When an owner decides to change or alter a structure, the owner must apply for a building permit and file an application for a certificate or appropriateness. The building permit process is initiated with the county (except for fences and signs, which are handled wholly by the City), while the application for a certificate of appropriateness is reviewed by the Historic Preservation Commission. The application for a certificate of appropriateness is sent to Mount Vernon’s City Planner (who is the Zoning Administrator). The application must include all items listed on the application form to assist the Historic Preservation Commission in their consideration of the application. Applications that do not contain all of the required items may be turned back to the applicant for more information prior to review of the application by the Commission pursuant to 165.1307.3 of the Mount Vernon Ordinances.
The standards that are used by the Commission to determine if an application for a certificate of appropriateness should be approved are based upon the United States Secretary of Interior Standards and the City of Mount Vernon Design Booklet. The Commission does not arbitrarily set standards, but instead must comply with the standards set forth in Chapter 165, Section 1305.lE the Mount Vernon Ordinances which includes the Secretary of Interior Standards and the City of Mount Vernon Design Booklet and later additions to it.
The Secretary of Interior Standards state that deteriorated historic features will be repaired, rather than replaced. Where the severity of deterioration requires replacement of a distinctive feature, the new feature will match the old in design and where possible, in materials. Further the Secretary of the Interior Standards indicate that substituted materials should be compatible with historic material in “details and craftsmanship of the original as well as color, surface texture, surface reflectivity and finish of the original material.” This standard of course gives some flexibility depending on what is being proposed by the owner. The Commission requires that an application for a certificate of appropriateness identify the material used and provide specific information about the nature of the material that will be used as replacement for the removed material. The City of Mount Vernon Design Booklet indicates that “construction materials may consist of original, salvaged or restored historic materials; new materials of the same type; or new materials similar to, or appropriate for the period or neighborhood in which the structure is located.”
The application process for a Certificate of Appropriateness is designed to have the owner bring to the Commission as much information as possible about the changes that are requested to be made, and to supply specific information about the design of the project and the materials to be used. If the owner has not submitted enough information, the Commission may return the application and request additional information before a decision is made.
Once the Commission makes a decision on the application, if the application is approved, the County then issues the building permit. The application can be approved as a certificate of appropriateness or as a certificate of no material effect. The application can also be denied. If the application is denied, the owner has ten days in which to appeal a decision by Historic Preservation. The appeal is taken to the City Council.
This is the process and the standards that our Historic Preservation Commission are required to follow.