Historic Review Controversy

Most of you have probably seen the conversation on our listserv regarding roof replacements and historic zone approval. The general subject of the conversation touches on something critically important to Armory Park. It also illustrates the difficulty of resolving differences of opinion, especially when individual freedom of choice is impacted. I feel that preservation of the AP historic character is vital to the future well being of our neighborhood. Without it, AP is just a group of old houses waiting to be demolished so that more profitable large buildings can be built. Nevertheless, reasonable compromise must be sought.

We should use this case to examine how the historic review process can be improved and how the inevitable conflict with individual preferences can be resolved with minimum angst. Here is the motivating comment (emails are in italics, my comments are not):

While walking this morning I ran into a neighbor on 3rd whose roof had just been stripped.

IMG_2477, resized
This is the house with underlayment installed but no shingles.

“I see you’re getting a new roof” I say. “No” she responds. “Well you better” I joke, “because your old one has been torn off.” Then she tells me that everything has been put on hold because she didn’t go through the historic board to have the color of the shingle approved. Someone wanted a darker color for the shingle! What?!?!?! Does the historic board have a say so in roofing color? What about material? Please say it ain’t so!
What do neighbors think?

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Bill – please chime in. My personal experience is that color is not a factor. It most likely is the material choice and that does need to go through the historic board.

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Paradoxical that they’d quibble over roof shingle colors but allow unattractive, unhistorical, new cyclone fencing to be installed at 3rd and 13th.

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No, what she is saying is NOT accurate.  The work was started WITHOUT going thru the Armory Park Historic Zone Advisory Board for review, followed by the review of the Pima County Historical Commission Architecture Committee.  Any work to be done on the outside of property should be brought to the APHZAB before starting.  We’d recommend bringing the ideas (sketches are fine at this point) for plans to the board for an informal review prior to having formal plans drawn.  Some work may just need a minor review which is done on site, but it is necessary to check with the board first.  The chair is Bill Duffy – emailduffy@gmail.com .  

By doing an informal review before having plans drawn can save time and money.  For example, I had a call from a real estate agent a few years ago who had a client who wanted to build a house on stilts in the neighborhood.  The agent was sure it wouldn’t be acceptable, but checked to keep the client happy.  Ask first so plans don’t have to be redone and work doesn’t have to be torn out.

 In the last year, I have had two projects in the historic review process. I have found our APHZAB helpful and reasonable in preparing for the proposed work and in obtaining approval. City staff is another matter. Guidance is obscure and doled out in small doses so that many trips to the building department were required. Communications were poor and required constant pressure from my end. Timelines were never met so the major project (just a pre-engineered carport) approval took three months and the minor project approval took three weeks. A poor administrative process builds resistance to the entire historic review effort. The quality of the city’s historic review process is not the subject here but I will have much more to say about it in the near future. Anyone who would like to be involved in pressing for improvement can email me at ken@kmtaylor.com.

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Just read about the roof color remark and approval by the Historic Board. I had my roof reshingled 2 years ago and went through all approval steps including permits and meeting with members of several “historic” interest groups at my house (I believe a Pima County person was there along with a city official and our neighborhood committee member .)  The shingle color was mentioned. Not wanting a dark color was mentioned, but since my choices were either a light gray or medium gray, the conversation did not go further. I did have to show the committee the shingle in some form. I either had the shingle itself or the company brochure with a small piece of the shingle plus pictures.

There was also a follow up visit to my house after the project was finished by one person. The necessity for this was described in the permit procedure. It took about 2 minutes. 

This example shows that the minor review process for a roof replacement can be a reasonable experience. Some will object to any requirement for approval but I can see no other way to preserve the historic character of our community.

Thank you for this timely reminder about living in the Armory Park Historic Preservation Zone. The Armory Park website has a page with background on our HPZ (https://armoryparktucson.org/historic-zone-advisory-board/). For those who really want to get into the weeds, there is a link at the bottom of that page to the City’s Unified Development Code, which covers HPZs in Section 5.8 of the UDC and Section 9-02.0.0 of the Technical Standards Manual. Section 9- is specific to Armory Park. 

On the immediate issue of roof shingles and their color, the Technical Standards say this about Armory Park: “Rolled roofing, white or light roofing shingles are discouraged on roof surfaces visible from the street.” Standards 9-02.7.2.D.5. Why? Because historically our houses did not have rolled roofing or light-colored shingles. That’s why the City needs to review and approve the property owner’s final choice.
As a general guideline, if you are planning exterior changes to your property (say, new construction, new windows, reroofing, building demolition, fences/walls), and you live within the Armory Park HPZ, ask first about an HPZ review. If somebody starts work on their property without a required HPZ review and approval, City Code Enforcement is likely to show up with a Stop Work order. Nobody wants that.
We have a unique neighborhood in Armory Park. Its HPZ status and the HPZ requirements help us keep it that way. 

This comment is extremely useful but also illustrates some of the problem. The technical standards use the word discouraged, not prohibited. That leaves the matter open to interpretation and debate. I suggest that if you propose a project with any controversial element at all, you should “get into the weeds” to become informed about the exact wording of the relevant city code. It is a challenge because the guidance is spread over several locations on the city website. You will get almost no help from the city staffer responsible for administering the program. The last two paragraphs are important. Almost any project altering the appearance of an Armory Park structure, except paint and landscaping, requires historic review. The city land use code definition of a structure may be helpful: “A physical element constructed or erected with a fixed location on the ground or attached to another physical element having a fixed location at, below, or above grade. Structures include such elements as, but are not limited to, buildings, paved areas, walls, fences, posts, and patios.” So, a storage shed or shade cover which is transportable and not connected to electricity, plumbing or footings, or to a structure as defined above, is not a structure.

The link to the APNA website is useful but the site overall is not an effective communications tool. There has been almost no new content posted there in over a year. People will not follow a website where the content does not change. New material relevant to the intended audience must be added frequently. I have volunteered to administer the site but providing fresh content is the responsibility of others. Board minutes and committee reports would be a good start. Newsy articles and even debates such as we see on the listserv would be even better. I hope some enthusiasm can be worked up for an effort in this area.

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To be fair, what Phyllis replied here is correct.  The person in question did not realize that even if she was replacing an existing shingle roof with shingles that are a very close match in color, that she would have to have permission to do so.  She was given a cease and desist order and the roofers were sent home.  I went with her to see Mr. Taku at the city historic planning.  She was rightly worried that she would not get the review done in time to avoid water damage.  I will give credit to Mr. Taku and Bill Duffy for expediting a minor review.  Mr. Taku did give her permission to have the roofers put on the new tar paper right away to alleviate the concern about water damage.  Our neighborhood level of the review took place in just two days.  She is scheduled for the city wide  part of the review on Tuesday and there should be little problem in getting it approved.  One worrisome issue for her is that Mr. Taku said the city board would have to decide if she is going to be fined for doing work without a permit.

  I would like to raise an issue here based on this experience of a neighbor who is doing a fine job of fixing up a 110 year old house including landscape.  What is the definition of ‘WORK’ on the outside of the house? Mr. Taku explained to her that any work, his words, “even if you are fixing a broken window” requires a review. Is it really as stringent as ‘fixing a broken window’?  Or, another example Mr. Taku gave, ‘changing a light fixture’?  Since even a minor review has the $190+  application fee and two to four hours of work, this is an important distinction.  I submit that it is rather expensive to pay and do that just to fix a broken window.

Do we have a clear definition? 

The practical answer to this question is no. It makes no sense to require a historic review for repairs which do not change the exterior  appearance of a structure. Remember, the historic review fees help to pay Mr. Taku’s salary.

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David brings up an issue that bothered my very much when I was Chair of the Advisory Board.  When I started with the board, about 15 years ago under previous city management, we did not require home owners in our historic district to pay for a review when they were simply repairing and maintaining their houses.  I have fussed about this change to require payment to fix your roof.  If the roof, door, window, or anything else on the exterior is being changed in any way, that obviously needs a review.  However, “fixing a broken window”, replacing a leaking roof with the same material and color is routine maintenance.  Why should those of us living in the historic district have to pay to maintain our houses when others living in most other neighborhoods can  carry out routine maintenance without paying the city for the permission to do so. 

I do think that this needs  to be looked in to.  Change to the exterior of a historic home is one thing.  Routine maintenance is another.  This policy only encourages demolition by neglect. As I said, this was not the way things were done years ago and we still maintained the historic feel of our neighborhood.

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Yes something must be done.  If historic status means we must ask permission, wait for committees to meet, and pay $200.00 to replace a broken window or leaky roof, we may need to rethink that decision.  There has to be a reasonable alternative.  

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In my opinion (and my opinion only), there has been a bit of an overreaction.

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No one here in AP has to undergo any type of inspection to repair a broken window. To replace windows and doors, yes – there is a permitting and inspection process that has been well-established and well managed for many years. And there are very legitimate reasons for this. When we live in a designated historic zone, all homeowners agree to maintain our homes in a style and manner that adheres to the statues. In exchange we receive SUBSTANTIAL tax benefits – to the tune of many thousands of dollars per year. 

To me, adhering to the historic statues is a small price to pay for this tax break. I, for one, am not interested in seeing my tax bill go up by a couple of hundred dollars every month. 

Though I don’t know it for a fact, I imagine that (given the current fiscal climate), the City of Tucson would LOVE to get rid of the AP Historic Designation and receive a hundred thousand or so in additional tax monies per year. If we started pushing back to the City, I can’t imagine they would put up any kind of fight in ridding us of these “onerous” historic regulations. 

Just my $0.02 – but something that MUST be considered.

Preservation of historic structures in our city has value for the entire city as well as for the residents of historic neighborhoods. The tax benefit we property owners enjoy is an incentive to encourage us to maintain the historic character and integrity of our properties.

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Thanks Jean, words worth far more than 2 cents.  My concern is that the person in charge of enforcing the historic zoning for the city does believe we need to have a review for a broken window.  That does bother me.  I would very much like to have our historic board put out a more reasonable definition of what requires approval. 

For the record, I can see and would support saying that re-roofing, even with the same material, would require approval just because it is such a big maintenance procedure.  We would like to see the color be compatible with the neighborhood, no lighter than the many roofs that are light grey. 

A major part of the problem illustrated here is poor communications between our community organizations and residents. This will always be a challenge but additional effort is needed to maintain support for and compliance with our historic review process. The dedicated members of the APHZAB and APNA board are a small circle in limited contact with other AP residents. I certainly wish residents would be proactive in learning about community matters but as a practical matter, the burden is on us. When I say us, I mean both of these organizations and those others of us who care about our community. I started this blog as a small effort to build community dialog but much more is needed.

If you want to add something to this discussion, please leave a comment. Also, participate on the listserv. It reaches more AP residents than any other medium.

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