Architectural Heritage Board could improve its approval process, state official says

Danville does a lot right when it comes to historic preservation, but the Architectural Heritage Board could still be more thorough with its process in approving proposed changes to historic buildings.

Those were two points brought up at Wednesday’s AHB meeting by Vicki Birenberg, a historic preservation planner with the Kentucky Heritage Council.

Birenberg coordinates Kentucky’s Certified Local Government program, which Danville participates in. The city is one of 23 communities in Kentucky that have earned the CLG designation, which means a community uses good standards for maintaining and preserving its historic structures and spaces. CLG designations also make Danville eligible to compete for grant funding for preservation projects.

Birenberg visited Wednesday to provide a refresher course for AHB officials on what Danville’s CLG status means and to offer some recommendations for how the city could improve, particularly in how the AHB meetings run.

Birenberg said after observing the AHB’s meeting, she thinks the board could be more thorough in its approach to approving “certificates of appropriateness,” the documents needed before someone can undertake renovations to buildings in the downtown historical district.

“There was no discussion of the significance of the property before you began your deliberation as to whether the treatment was appropriate,” she told board members.

Birenberg said the board should have a two-step approval process, where it approves “findings of fact” about a building and then approves the certificate of appropriateness.

The ordinance that created the AHB actually states that the board should “make sure that the work is evaluated in regards to historic and architectural significance … the architectural style, design, texture, materials and color,” Birenberg said.

“So articulate that. This will help you have more defensible positions when you make that statement that you find it is compatible or likewise, in the case that it’s not compatible,” she said. “… And reference those design guidelines that back up the facts. Then, once you have established those findings and the motion has been approved, you can move to the second step, which is to approve with conditions, defer if you need more information … or deny the application.”

Overall, though, Birenberg said Danville is doing a lot of things right. The city has taken advantage of grant funding for preservation programs and done “wonderful preservation education and outreach.”

“Many of these things you’re doing already. Not all of my CLGs are actually doing as well as this community is in many ways,” she said. “… This community does a good job of all these things and I know that you partner with the Boyle Landmark Trust and Heart of Danville — and we notice. You’re doing a good job there.”