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HDC Assuming Residents “OK” With Proposed Changes

March 3, 2011 by Josh Morgan

Since there hasn't been much objection to any of the proposed changes to the Historic District Commission review processes, the chairman takes it as a sign that residents are supportive of the ideas.
A meeting held last month, where the changes to the rules and regulations governing the Historic District Commission were discussed, drew only a handful of members of the public. Last year, residents from the two Historic Districts came out in force, even starting a petition, to show their displeasure with how the HDC operates and the level of oversight the Commission has over properties within the Districts. As a result of those meetings with residents, Historic District Commission chairman Jeanné Chesanow said the Commission proposed some changes to its regulations that would ease the burden on residents for routine projects and maintenance. A copy of those changes was mailed to every property owner within Cheshire's two Historic Districts, and very few residents attended the meeting early in February.
"Every property owner got a copy of the list. We asked them to come in and we had sparse attendance," Chesanow explained. "If they couldn't make it, we asked them to submit comments and we heard from no one. We are taking that as an 'okay,' so the list will stand."
Residents had complained that, if they wanted to do work on their property, they had to “jump through hoops” to comply with Historic District Commission regulations. In some cases, regarding large projects, other boards and commissions needed to approve work and some felt it added another unnecessary level of bureaucracy to the process. Yet others, who wanted to do some routine maintenance, still had to come before the board, and it sparked passionate complaints from many residents last year.
In response, the HDC created three categories of oversight for various type of work on a historic property. The levels include no review, some review, and full review of an application.
"Anything that will eliminate some paperwork and some time on the part of the Commission and property owners is fine," Chesanow said.
The first level, or no review, would be for projects of a routine nature that didn't involve different materials. Repairs and replacement, such as patching a damaged column or putting in a new deck board, would not need to be reviewed by the Commission.
However, if the wooden deck boards were to be replaced with composite plastic boards, the Commission would need to know about it. Some other items that require no review would be adding a jungle gym or swing set to the backyard, replacing shutters, or adding a flag staff to the home.
"People can go ahead and make repairs and do the routine maintenance on their house as long as they are not replacing the traditional materials," Chesanow said. "Those changes would require a review."
The second level of review, requiring some involvement from the Commission, includes projects such as adding new gutters, putting up a satellite dish, and new storm windows.
Chesanow said residents can call to ask if a permit is needed for a particular project, or they can attend a meeting and ask about the review process for the work they have planned. While understanding why people don't want to spend time in front of the Commission, Chesanow said she enjoyed meeting with the residents on these issues.
"In a way, we're losing some contact with the residents. It is a way to talk to people about their buildings," she said. "Maybe they felt it was annoying to come in for a small thing, but it was a way for us to meet with some of the property owners who we don't often get a chance to meet. I enjoy that contact."
The third and final level of review would be a full review by the Commission, complete with a public hearing. These projects are generally large in scale, such as an addition to the building, adding a swimming pool, or putting up a new fence or wall. This review stage also covers the demolition of a building or part of the property.
“Evidently, (the residents) are okay with these changes. We have not seen any letters, comments, or e-mails to the contrary," Chesanow said. "We are assuming everything is okay. I think people are accepting of the new processes."
The next meeting of the Historic District Commission is scheduled for March 7 at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.

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