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State College Borough Council Moves HARB Discussion Forward

by on May 16, 2017 11:03 AM

State College Borough Council on Monday voted to move forward with discussions and planning for the possible creation of a Historical Architecture Review Board (HARB) and Local Historic Districts.

The vote did not commit the borough to creating a HARB, but will keep the issue moving forward this year. Because planning office staff is stretched thin with, among other things, a comprehensive zoning rewrite, it was suggested action on a HARB proposal be postponed to the 2018 work plan.

Council members, however, agreed it was important to move the proposal forward slowly. They will next consider specific regulations in an ordinance establishing a HARB and provide for public input at neighborhood meetings.

"Every year we put it off we will lose more homes," council member Theresa Lafer said.

Borough manager Tom Fountaine said the proposal will necessitate additional resources for the planning office, likely a part-time position of 20 to 30 hours a week. He and planning director Ed LeClear will bring a proposal for additional staff and appropriation to the next council meeting.

The HARB would cover College Heights, Holmes-Foster and Highlands historic districts, encompassing more than 1,000 properties. Designed to protect the architectural heritage of a historic district, the board would be advisory and would take recommendations for approval or denial of alterations to properties to council.

HARB reviews would not be necessary for changes to the interior of a home but rather for exterior alterations or demolitions. Reviewable actions would include additions, alterations, cleaning exterior surfaces with abrasive methods, cornice changes, fences, lighting, masonry work, material replacement, new construction, reconstruction, removal of architectural details, roofing, shutters, siding, storm doors and windows, and window changes or replacement

Council member Evan Myers said he supported the concept, but asked how it would balance preserving historic structures and neighborhoods without being overly prescriptive.

Lafer said a HARB can be helpful to a property owner.

"They show you how you can do what you want or you need in a better way or certainly a more aesthetically pleasing way," she said.

Eric Boeldt, chair of the Design and Historic Review Board, presented images of homes in other municipalities where exterior changes damaged the architectural character of the home and the neighborhood. They included alterations that seem innocuous on paper, such as storm windows, but can be unsightly if not done properly.

He said a HARB helps protect neighborhoods from "poorly conceived additions or changes." He added that the HARB would recognize the eclectic mix of historic homes in the borough, which aren't all of one style.

Boeldt said that preserving historic neighborhoods has economic benefits as well. He said preservation creates more and longer lasting local jobs than new construction and can be an effective strategy for economic development and attracting new businesses.

The HARB would likely include homes within a district that are not designated historic themselves, Fountaine said.

Members of the HARB would include a registered architect, a licensed real estate broker, a building code inspector and four citizens.

Steve Smith, president of the College Heights Association, said his neighborhood group supports the proposal. Peggy Hartman, secretary of the Holmes-Foster Neighborhood Association, also spoke in support of a HARB.

More information on the proposed HARB, including addresses that would be included, can be found here.

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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