If all goes as members of the Mt. Lebanon Historic Preservation Board (HPB) hope, most of the houses and buildings in the community’s older subdivisions will be part of a National Register of Historic Places District by the year’s end.
In cooperation with the HPB and the Pennsylvania Bureau for Historic Preservation, Laura Ricketts of Skelly & Loy, consultant for the project, has drawn the boundaries for the district and currently is finalizing the narrative that will be submitted to the state National Register Review Board.
About 4,200 residential and commercial structures built prior to 1945 that have retained their architectural integrity make up the proposed district, which is being nominated as a prime example of an early automobile suburb. HPB members and trained volunteers did field work to verify properties that “contribute,” meaning they meet guidelines established by the Department of the Interior, which oversees the program. Structures built in more recent years or older buildings that have been radically altered architecturally are in the district but designated “non-contributing.” About 80 percent of the properties in the district “contribute.”
The National Register designation is an honorary one that carries no strictures—properties within the district may be changed or even torn down as local code permits. Property values in National Register districts tend to be strong, however, and there is a tax credit available to income producing properties for improvements that sustain a property’s historic value.
HPB Board Chair Yvette Yescas and Vice Chair Joel Cluskey have told the Commission that the National Register designation neither requires nor promotes local historic preservation zoning or ordinances. However, information gathered during the National Register process will help the board implement its plan to pursue preservation zoning and create locally legislated historic districts, which are created with input from residents, and are coordinated by a Historic and Architecture Review Board (HARB) that has legal “teeth.”
HPB member Bill Callahan notes that many tourist/visitor-oriented towns in Pennsylvania, such as Gettysburg, Bedford, Bellefonte, Hollidaysburg and Stroudsburg, have HARB ordinances that protect their historic districts. In this area, municipalities with HARB ordinances include Moon, Harmony, West Homestead, Beaver, Mercer and Greensburg. The city of Pittsburgh also has one.
Educating the public about the National Register of Historic Places and documenting those outreach efforts is an important requirement of the process, and this magazine has written frequently about it over the past four years. Also, prior to submitting the final nomination, the historic preservation board is required to hold a public meeting to explain the concept and process, discuss the proposed district and answer any questions residents may have.
That meeting will be announced in a future issue. For information, call staff liaison Susan Morgans at 412-343-3780.