Bath’s Landmarks Commission head lays out process of setting up local historic district

by Trish Rudder

At the April 6 Bath Town Council meeting, David Abruzzi, the town’s Historic Landmark Commission president, told the council what steps need to be taken to put a proposed local historic district in place. He said the process would take about a year.

Bath Mayor Scott Merki said a special meeting will be held before the town council makes a decision on whether to adopt the districting proposal.

The first step is for the town council to empower the Historic Landmarks Commission (HLC) by amending the current HLC ordinance to allow for certificates of appropriateness, said Abruzzi.

A certificate of appropriateness would be needed by any property owner within the designated district area seeking to make any “material change” to the public appearance of their property.

Abruzzi said the process to establish a district would be in four steps. The first is to determine the boundaries of a proposed local historic district with protections. Public participation is invited, he said.

Next, the Landmarks Commission would meet with property owners “one-on-one” wherever possible to explain the design guidelines, the certificates of appropriateness process, and the benefits to establishing a local historic district.

“The goal would be to meet with 100% of the property owners who reside in the local area,” Abruzzi said.

Then, per West Virginia law, the town’s Landmarks Commission would submit documentation, including maps showing the proposed boundaries and photographs to the West Virginia Historic Preservation Office. The office has 45 days to provide written comments on the proposal.

Going forward, according to West Virginia law, the commission can proceed to hold a public hearing on the proposed designation of a historic district. The Landmarks Commission must publish a notice of the hearing at least two times before the meeting.

Every property owner within the proposed district will receive a written notice of the hearing via certified mail with a signed return receipt required. Every occupant will also receive a notice of the meeting via the mail. All the notices would have to be published or mailed not less than 10 nor more than 20 days prior to the date set for the public hearing.

After the hearing, unless 50% of the ownership in the proposed district objects to the requirements within 30 days, the Landmarks Commission may proceed with the historic designation.

If a property owner is in favor of establishing a local historic district, then no action is required on their part.

The Landmarks Commission would have 30 days to notify in writing all the owners and occupants of each property within the historic district of the necessity of obtaining a certificate of appropriateness prior to undertaking any material change in the appearance that can be viewed by the public from the street within the historic district.