The Preservation Board meets once a month to review projects proposed in the City’s many historic neighborhoods, and to serve as a review panel for preservation decisions made by the staff of the Cultural Resources Office. The meetings are always interesting, occasionally lengthy.
At their next meeting, members of the board are scheduled to review a request by a church to demolish a nearby house in the Ville neighborhood, a request by a church to demolish its own building in the Central West End, and a plan by the Saint Louis Art Museum to construct an addition. When those tasks are completed, the board is scheduled to consider appeals of decisions by the staff regarding construction undertaken without permits.
Reading the descriptions of botched projects undertaken without permits, often by experienced property owners in some of the City’s most intact historic neighborhoods, can be infuriating. What excuse could there be not to have gotten a building permit before removing dozens of windows from a landmark building, purchasing new ones, and installing them?
It probably wasn’t a delay in getting permits. Thanks to general revenue funding provided by the Board of Aldermen last year, 32 of 46 building permit applications that needed Cultural Resources Office input were approved “over the counter” last month. This means that nearly 70 percent of the permit applications avoided any delays associated with routing applications for work in historic districts through different City departments and agencies. The new funding allowed the Planning and Urban Design Agency to hire an additional person to staff the “hot line” desk in the Permit Section at City Hall, so that the Cultural Resources review could occur simultaneously with other permit reviews.
One excuse often offered to the Preservation Board by cited property owners is that their contractors failed to get the necessary permits — or to tell their clients that permits were needed. Although some aldermen have been talking for years about a new ordinance that would hold contractors responsible for performing work without permits, the idea has never moved forward. For now, property owners should find out what permits are needed, and should hold their contractors responsible for getting them.