Preservation in St. Louis:
About The Cultural Resources Office (CRO)
Building and Demolition Permit Review Process
If your property is located within a City historic district, you will need a permit for any exterior work, except the painting of wood trim. This is the case, even if the work would not ordinarily require a permit from the Building Division.
The process is typically initiated when an individual or contractor requests a building permit from Building Division. Alternatively, sometimes the trigger is a concerned neighbor or an alert building inspector who perceives a project for which there does not seem to be an approved permit.
If the Building Division official determines that the site falls within an historic district, he or she refers the application to the Cultural Resources Office (CRO). In turn, CRO must review the proposed improvements by considering what is allowed by the standards for that particular district.
If the CRO staff and the citizen seeking the permit cannot reach consensus, the applicant has the right to appeal to the Preservation Board, and ultimately to circuit court.
In the case of demolition, the process works similarly except it may be slightly more complicated. In addition to the historic districts, there is a larger Demolition Review area, that is designated by the Board of Aldermen, the city's legislative body. When a proposed demolition permit is not in an historic district, but is within the Demolition Review area, the alderman is notified and given an opportunity to contribute his or her opinions regarding the merits of the proposal.
Demolition cases can be more complicated also by the fact that architectural or historical merit alone is not sufficient grounds for the Preservation Board to deny a permit. There must be a finding that the building has potential viability. This can be a matter of wide differences of opinion, which is why some of these requests end up in court.
The Preliminary Review Process
The City encourages individuals and businesses to discuss their ideas while they are still in a formulative stage. Sometimes this process involves multiple city departments as coordinated by the Business Assistance Center. In other instances, the process is an informal meeting with the Cultural Resources Office staff. In all cases the goal is to understand what might be proposed, and its likelihood of approval. These meetings are designed to save time, money and frustration, conditions that can occur too often when a meeting does not occur early in the process.
The Historic District or Landmark Designation Process
An historic district is an area or neighborhood that is important because of historic events, its architecture or cultural significance, or a connection to the lives of the people who lived there. An historic district must meet other requirements:
There are two types of historic districts:
How is an historic district created?
For a National Register District to be formed, a nomination form must be completed. The application must be submitted to and approved by the State Historic Preservation Officer and then by the National Park Service, acting on behalf of the Secretary of the Interior. For information on nominations, contact the staff of the Cultural Resources Office at (314) 622-3400.
The process for local historic districts is somewhat different. A petition must be filed by the staff of the City of St. Louis Preservation Commission, the alderman of that ward, or by the owners of 10% or more of the land within the proposed district. After numerous public hearings, the Commission, the Community Development Commission, the Board of Public Service, and the Board of Aldermen must approve the petition.
Basically, a permit is an agreement between the City and the applicant whereby the applicant agrees to follow the City Codes and the City agrees to inspect the construction to ensure that Codes are followed. Permits reflect a decision by the city's legislative and executive branch to adopt certain standards that will protect property owners and their neighborhoods.
A permit guarantees the work will be inspected by the City. The inspector may discover poor work, faulty materials, deviations from plans, and violations of the Code that may result in unsafe or hazardous conditions for you and your family.
Another important consideration is the fact that it is a violation of City Ordinance not to have a permit when the work being performed requires one. Failure to obtain the necessary permits may result in prosecution in the Housing Court with a maximum possible fine of $500 plus court costs.
Generally speaking, a building permit is required when any structural change or major alteration is made to a building or when any new construction is undertaken. Normal maintenance does not require a permit in most instances. Separate permits for plumbing, electrical, and mechanical work are also required when applicable.
Accelerated ("Hot Spot") Review Process
In recent years, the city has enacted an accelerated process whereby an individual can come into the Building Division Office and obtain a permit on the spot. This occurs when a member of the CRO staff is present, when the permit application is properly completed, and when the proposed project is straight forward. More complex proposals require a more detailed review.
106 National Historic Preservation Act Review Process
The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (revised) has a requirement that all federal agencies funding a specific project must consider the effect that project might have on an historic resource. This means that rehabilitation or new construction projects supported with federal funds such as Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) or HOME Improvement funds must be evaluated from an historic preservation perspective before the project is initiated. HUD, the Federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the State Historic Preservation Officer have entered into an agreement with the City of St. Louis whereby the Cultural Resource Office carries out the required review. State and Federal review only occurs if agreement between the applicant and the city is not possible, or when demolition is contemplated.
Eligibility Surveys and Nominations
Central to the mission of the Cultural Resource Office is the promotion of historic preservation awareness and the initiation of steps to create local districts or nominate national districts. Towards that end, the Office conducts surveys of different neighborhoods in order to determine if they might meet the designation criteria. Because this work is time consuming, we may work with qualified consulting individuals or firms. The popularity of certified local and national districts has increased with the availability of historic tax credits. There is now a cadre of individuals in St. Louis with the qualifications to conduct surveys or prepare nominations.
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