City of Schenectady, NY
Schenectady County
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Table of Contents
Table of Contents

§ 264-73 Purpose.

Pursuant to the provisions of § 96-a and Article 5-K of the New York General Municipal Law, it is hereby declared a matter of public policy that the protection, enhancement, perpetuation and use of buildings, structures, places and sites of historic, architectural, cultural or aesthetic value are a public necessity and purpose in the City of Schenectady. The purpose of this article is to:
A. 
Safeguard the heritage of the City of Schenectady by preserving resources in the City that represent or reflect elements of its cultural, social, economic, political and architectural history.
B. 
Protect and enhance the attractiveness of such historic resources to home buyers, visitors, shoppers and residents and thereby provide economic benefits to the City and its citizens.
C. 
Conserve and improve the value of property within historic districts.
D. 
Foster, encourage and advise the preservation, restoration and rehabilitation of structures, areas and neighborhoods.
E. 
Promote the use of historic districts for the education, enjoyment and welfare of the citizens of the City.
F. 
Foster civic pride in the beauty and history of the past as represented in the historic districts.
G. 
Designate sites and structures throughout the City of Schenectady as having historical value which should be preserved.

§ 264-74 Historic Commission.

In order to carry out the declared purpose and intent of this article, a Historic Commission (hereinafter "Commission") is hereby created.
A. 
Membership and appointments.
(1) 
Membership.
(a) 
The Commission shall consist of seven members whose residences are located in the City of Schenectady. Members shall be appointed by the Mayor of the City of Schenectady for terms of office of three years. Members of the Commission may be reappointed for succeeding terms.
(b) 
Members of the Commission shall have demonstrated significant interest in and commitment to the field of historic preservation evidenced either by involvement in a local historic preservation group, volunteer activity in the field of historic preservation or other serious interest in the field.
(c) 
In addition to the membership criteria listed above, the Mayor may fill remaining vacant positions on the Commission with City residents who have background in architecture and/or historic preservation, history or historic research, real estate and/or development and urban planning and/or land use laws.
(2) 
Appointments. Before making said appointments, the Mayor shall request from the neighborhood organizations that comprise the historic districts, and from the Northeastern New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, each to recommend one or more persons to be so appointed. The Mayor may make appointments from such recommendations. In no event is the Mayor required to accept any recommendations for such appointments. A vacancy occurring in the membership of the Commission for any cause shall be filled by a person appointed by the Mayor for the unexpired term.
B. 
Duties and powers. The Commission shall have the following powers and duties:
(1) 
Review of plans. It is the duty of the Commission to review and approve, approve with modifications or disapprove all actions, as set forth in § 264-76 of this article, that result in any physical change of existing features, relocation, renovation or demolition of historic sites or structures within an historic district. The Commission shall have the power to pass upon such activity before a certificate of approval and/or building permit is granted, provided that the Commission shall pass only on changes visible from the public way and on the exterior features of a building or structures as are visible from the public way and shall not consider interior arrangements. In deciding upon all such plans, the Commission shall be guided by the standards for review set forth in § 264-76C of this article.
[Amended 11-26-2012 by Ord. No. 2012-12]
(2) 
Investigate and report. The Commission may investigate, report, testify and recommend to the Planning Commission, the Board of Zoning Appeals, the City Council and any City department or official on matters, permits, authorizations and other actions that affect buildings, structures, sites and places within an historic district. The Zoning Officer shall serve written notice to the Commission Chairman of matters, permits and authorizations scheduled to come before the Board of Zoning Appeals, the Planning Commission and the City Council and any City department or official that may affect an historic district.
(3) 
District designations and amendments. The Commission may investigate and transmit recommendations to the City Council and Planning Commission concerning the establishment, amendment or alteration of an historic district and of this article.
(4) 
Surveys and studies. The Commission may undertake the survey and study of neighborhoods, areas, sites, places, buildings and structures that have historic, architectural, cultural or aesthetic value. Pursuant to such study and survey, the Commission may propose regulations, special conditions and restrictions, including recommendations for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, as may be appropriate to serve the purposes of this article.
(5) 
Retain specialists. The Commission may retain such specialists, consultants or experts to aid in its duties and to pay for their services, not exceeding, in all, the appropriation made for such purpose by the City Council. The Commission may call upon available City staff members, as well as other individuals, for technical advice.
(6) 
Assist property owners. The Commission may advise owners of property or structures within the historic districts on the physical and financial aspects of preservation, renovation, rehabilitation and reuse.
(7) 
Other power. The Commission may undertake any other action or activity necessary or appropriate to the implementation of its powers and duties or to the advancement of the purposes set forth in this article.
C. 
Rules of the Commission.
(1) 
The Commission shall elect from its membership a Chairman and Vice Chairman, whose terms of office shall be fixed by the Commission. The Chairman shall preside over the Commission and shall have the right to vote. The Vice Chairman shall, in cases of absence or disability of the Chairman, perform the duties of the Chairman.
(2) 
The Commission shall appoint a Secretary who shall be an employee of the City of Schenectady. The Secretary shall keep a record of all resolutions, proceedings and actions of the Historic District Commission.
(3) 
Four members of the Commission shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business. The Commission shall adopt rules for the transaction of its business. They shall provide for the calling of special meetings by the Chairman or by at least two members of the Commission. All regular or special meetings of the Commission shall be open to the public, and any person or his duly constituted representative shall be entitled to appear and be heard on any matter before the Commission before it reaches its decision.
(4) 
The Commission shall keep a record, which shall be open to the public view, of its resolutions, proceedings and actions. The concurring affirmative vote of four members shall constitute approval of plans before it for review or for the adoption of any resolution, motion or other action of the Commission. The Commission shall submit an annual report of its activities to the Mayor and make such recommendations to the Council as it deems necessary to carry out the principles of this chapter.

§ 264-75 District boundaries; designation of historic sites and structures.

A. 
Standards.
(1) 
Historic District boundaries. For the purpose of this article, the Historic District boundaries are described as follows:
(a) 
The RH-2 Stockade Historic Residential District, the RH-1 Historic Residential District area shown and bounded on the City of Schenectady Zoning Map and the OH Overlay Historic District shall be the area shown on the City of Schenectady Zoning Map and all sites designated either by the City as historic sites and structures or listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
(b) 
All land within the RH-2, RH-1 and OH Districts, as amended to date, shall be subject to the procedures, standards and limitations set forth in this article. The term "historic district," when used in this article, shall be construed to include any lot or parcel located within the RH-1, the RH-2 or the OH Districts and all sites designated by the City as historic sites and structures.
(2) 
Amendment, supplement, establishment or change of historic boundaries. The Commission may recommend amendments to the Historic District boundaries, or establishment of new historic districts, in accordance with Article XIX of Chapter 264, Zoning, of the City Code, which describes the process of notification and review for amendment to the provisions of the ordinance. The Commission recommendations for Historic District changes shall be submitted to the City Planning Commission for its review and recommendation to the City Council for action, The Commission may recommend a group of properties as an Historic District if:
(a) 
It contains properties which meet one or more of the criteria for designation of an historic site or structure; and
(b) 
By reason of possessing such qualities, it constitutes an historic district section of the City.
(3) 
Historic sites and structures. The Commission may recommend an individual property for designation as an historic site or structure if it:
(a) 
Possesses special character or historic or aesthetic interests or value as part of the cultural, political, economic or social history of the locality, region, state or nation;
(b) 
Is identified with historic personages or events;
(c) 
Embodies the distinguishing characteristics of an architectural style;
(d) 
Is the work of a designer whose work has significantly influenced an age; or
(e) 
Because of a unique location or singular physical characteristic, represents an established and familiar visual feature of the neighborhood.
B. 
Notice of designation.
(1) 
Designation proposals for property which has historic, architectural or cultural significance may be initiated by the owners of said property. Designation proposals may also be initiated by the Commission. No action with regard to a Historic District boundary, historic site or structure designation shall be taken by the City without prior review and formal recommendation by the Commission.
(2) 
When the Commission proposes to recommend changes to the boundaries of an historic district, establish a new historic district or designate an historic site or structure, notice of a proposed designation shall be sent by registered mail to the owner of the property proposed for designation, describing the property proposed and announcing a public hearing by the Planning Commission to consider the designation. Where the proposed designation involves so many owners that individual notice is infeasible, notice may instead be published at least once in a newspaper of general circulation at least 10 days prior to the date of the public hearing. Once the Commission has issued notice of a proposed designation, no building permits shall be issued by the Building Inspector until the Planning Commission has made its recommendations to the City Council and the City Council has made its decision. Such restriction on the issuance of building permits may be waived by the City Council by supermajority vote upon a recommendation from the Zoning Enforcement Officer that the activity proposed does not impact historic features. Within 30 days of the public hearing, the Planning Commission shall make its decision and submit recommendations to the City Council.
(3) 
The Planning Commission shall hold a public hearing prior to designation of any historic site or structure or historic district. The Commission, owners and any interested parties may present testimony or documentary evidence at the hearing which will become part of the record of the hearing. The record may also contain staff reports, public comments and other evidence offered outside of the hearing.
(4) 
In making their recommendations and decisions with respect to designation proposals, the Commission, Planning Commission and City Council shall be guided by the application review criteria set forth in § 264-76C of this article.

§ 264-76 Application for alteration, demolition or new construction.

[Amended 9-12-2011 by Ord. No. 2011-15]
No person shall carry out any exterior alteration, restoration, repair, repainting, reconstruction, demolition, new construction or moving of an historic site or structure or property that results in any physical change to buildings, structures or historic resources within the districts, nor shall any person make any material change in the appearance of such a property, its light fixtures, signs, roofs, steps, railings, sidewalks, fences, paving, installation of satellite dishes, or other exterior elements visible from a public right-of-way which affect the appearance and cohesiveness of the Historic District or historic site or structure without first obtaining a certificate of approval from the Commission, whose decision shall be based on the criteria set forth in Subsection C. Any and all such action shall require the prior approval of the Commission, regardless of whether a building permit is required.
A. 
Procedures for review.
(1) 
Application for a certificate of approval shall be made to the Historic District Commission staff. The application shall state that the property is in a historic district or is a designated historic site or structure. Plans shall be submitted showing the structure in question and provide the following additional information:
(a) 
The name, address and telephone number of the applicant.
(b) 
The location of and photographs of the property.
(c) 
Plans, plot plans when any addition(s) or demolition is planned and elevation drawings of proposed changes, to scale.
(d) 
Perspective drawings, including relationship to adjacent properties, if available.
(e) 
Specific descriptions and samples of color and materials to be used.
(f) 
Where the proposal includes signs or lettering, a scale drawing showing the type of lettering to be used, all dimensions and colors, a description of materials to be used, method of illumination and a plan showing the sign's location on the property.
(g) 
Any other information which the Commission may deem necessary in order to visualize the proposed work.
(2) 
Upon the filing of a complete application and plans at least two weeks prior to the next regularly scheduled meeting of the Commission, the Building Inspector shall notify the Commission Chairperson of the receipt of such application and shall transmit it, together with accompanying plans and other information, to the Commission.
(3) 
No building permit shall be issued for any proposed work until the work plans and description have been approved by the Commission. The Commission's certificate of approval required by this article shall be in addition to and not in lieu of any building permit that may be required by any other ordinance of the City of Schenectady.
B. 
Action by the Commission.
(1) 
Decision by the Commission.
(a) 
The Commission shall approve or disapprove or approve with modifications such plans and, if approved, shall issue a certificate of approval, which is to be signed by the Chairperson, attached to the application for the building permit, if applicable, and immediately transmitted to the Building Inspector. The Chairperson shall also stamp all approved prints submitted to the Commission signifying its approval.
(b) 
If the Commission does not approve such plans, it shall state its reasons for doing so and shall transmit a record of such action and reasons therefore in writing to the Building Inspector and to the applicant. The Commission may advise what it thinks is proper if it disapproved of the plans submitted. The applicant, if he/she so desires, may make modifications to his/her plans and shall have the right to resubmit his/her application at any time after so doing.
(c) 
The failure of the Commission to approve or disapprove of such plans within 62 days from the date of the Commission's meeting to consider the completed application for a certificate of approval shall be deemed to constitute approval, and the Building Inspector shall proceed to process the application as submitted to the Building Inspector, without regard to a certificate of approval, except as provided below:
[1] 
The applicant has agreed, in writing, to an extension of this sixty-two-day period; or
[2] 
The application is subject to the requirements of the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), and an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement review must be completed prior to action by the Commission.
(2) 
Effect of approval. If the Commission approves the application, it authorizes the Building Inspector to issue the building permit for the work so specified in the application; provided, however, that the applicant has obtained all other permits or approvals that may be required by the codes and ordinances of the City, and provided that a building permit is issued and work is actually begun within that period and is thereafter diligently pursued to completion.
(3) 
Inspection of work. After the certificate of approval has been issued and the building permit granted to the applicant, the Building Inspector shall, from time to time, inspect the construction, alteration or repair approved by such certificate and shall take such action as is necessary to enforce compliance with the approved plans.
C. 
Application review criteria.
(1) 
In considering an application to modify or demolish designated structures or construct new structures within the Historic District, the Commission shall not consider changes to interior spaces or to architectural features that are not visible from a public right-of-way.
(2) 
The Commission's decision shall be based upon the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings (current revision), published by the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Preservation Assistance Division, a copy of which is available in the office of the City's Building Inspector, and upon the following principles:
(a) 
Properties which contribute to the character of the Historic District shall be retained, with their historic features altered as little as possible.
(b) 
Alterations and additions to existing buildings shall either be made consistent with the spirit of their architectural style or, if this is deemed infeasible, shall alter the structure to an appearance consistent with the architectural styles of historic value existing in the Historic District where the subject property is located. Alternatively, contemporary design for alterations and additions to existing properties may be permitted when such alterations and additions do not destroy significant historical, architectural or cultural material and/or such design is compatible with the size, scale, material and character of the property, neighborhood or environment. Wherever possible, new additions or alterations to structures shall be done in such a manner that, if such additions or alterations were to be removed in the future, the essential form and integrity of the structure would be unimpaired.
(c) 
Deteriorated architectural features shall be repaired rather than replaced, wherever possible. In the event that replacement is necessary, the new material should match the material being replaced in composition, design, texture and other visual qualities. Repair or replacement of missing architectural features should be based on accurate duplications of features, substantiated by historical, physical or pictorial evidence, rather than on conjectural designs or the availability of different architectural elements from other buildings or structures.
(d) 
New construction shall be consistent with the architectural styles of historic value in the applicable historic district. On sites of proposed new construction, where structures adjoining the site are of significantly dissimilar periods or styles of architecture, the Commission may approve such period or style of architecture as it deems proper for the site and in the best interests of the surrounding historic district.
(e) 
No structure may be demolished unless the Commission finds that preservation of the structure is not warranted under the general standards set forth in this section. Demolition may be permitted only after the developer of the site has submitted and obtained approval for such plans for new development, including Commission approval for new construction, including an acceptable timetable and guaranties which may include performance bonds for demolition and completion of the project. In no case shall the time between demolition and the commencement of new construction exceed six months.
(f) 
Moving of structures or buildings may be permitted as an alternative to demolition.
(g) 
Additional general standards.
[1] 
The distinguishing original qualities or character of any significant building, structure or site and its environment shall not be destroyed. The removal or alteration of any historic material or distinctive architectural features should be avoided when possible.
[2] 
All buildings, structures and sites shall be recognized as products of their own time. Alterations that have no historical basis and that seek to create an appearance of different time period shall be discouraged.
[3] 
Distinctive stylistic features or examples of skilled craftsmanship which characterize a building, structure or site shall be treated with sensitivity.
[4] 
Every reasonable effort shall be made to protect and preserve archaeological resources affected by or adjacent to any project.
(3) 
In making its decision, the Commission shall consider the following factors:
(a) 
The scale of proposed alteration or new construction in relation to the property itself, surrounding properties and the neighborhood.
(b) 
Texture, materials and color and their relation to similar features of other properties in the neighborhood.
(c) 
Visual compatibility with surrounding properties, including proportion of the property's front facade, proportion and arrangement of windows and other openings within the facade, roof shape and the rhythm of spacing of properties on streets, including setback.
(d) 
The importance of historic, architectural or other features to the significance of the property.

§ 264-77 Hardship relief.

A. 
An applicant who has been denied a certificate of approval from the Commission to alter designated structures or build new structures within an historic district may request a hearing before the Board of Zoning Appeals on the grounds that the decision presents a hardship. In order to prove the existence of hardship, the applicant shall establish that:
(1) 
The property is incapable of earning a reasonable return, regardless of whether that return represents the most profitable return possible;
(2) 
The property cannot be adapted for any other use, whether by the current owner or by a purchaser, which would result in a reasonable return; and
(3) 
The applicant has made a good faith effort to sell the property and has been unable to find a purchaser at the fair market value who would agree to preserve the structure.
B. 
Appeals.
(1) 
Applicants who have been denied a certificate of approval to demolish a designated site or structure may appeal the decision of the Commission to the Board of Zoning Appeals, showing hardship based upon the factors set forth in Subsection A(1), (2) and (3) above, and the following:
(a) 
The structure is deteriorating and that the owner cannot economically afford to preserve the structure.
(b) 
The applicant has sought financial assistance under established programs for historic preservation and failed to obtain sufficient assistance to enable the owner to economically preserve the structure.
(2) 
Notwithstanding the finding of hardship, if the Commission finds that the structure should be preserved, it may withhold approval to demolish for a period not exceeding one year from the date of an application for a demolition permit. If, during that period, the owner, the Commission or other interested parties are able to obtain sufficient financial assistance to preserve the structure or a purchaser at the fair market value who will agree to preserve the structure on the parcel, the Commission shall deny a permit to demolish the structure.
(3) 
For purposes of this subsection, "economically afford" means, in the case of a one-family or two-family owner-occupied house, an inability to preserve the structure without financial hardship; in the case of rental or commercial property, an inability to earn a reasonable return on the property if the structure is preserved; and in the case of property owned and used by a nonprofit organization, an inability to preserve the structure without financial hardship. Preservation of a structure includes such additions or other alterations as are permissible in an historic district.
C. 
In any event, the relief granted in a finding of hardship shall be only the minimum sufficient to relieve the hardship proved by the applicant.
D. 
Appeals must be filed in a manner set forth in Article XVI of this chapter and must be filed within 30 days of the action of the Commission.

§ 264-78 Maintenance and repair.

A. 
Nothing in this article shall be construed to prevent the ordinary maintenance and repair of any exterior architectural feature of a historic site or structure or property within an historic district which does not involve a change in design, material, color or outward appearance.
B. 
No owner or person with an interest in real property designated as an historic site or structure or included within an historic district shall permit the property to fall into a serious state of disrepair so as to threaten to result in the deterioration of any exterior architectural feature which would, in the judgment of the Commission, produce a detrimental effect upon the character of the historic district as a whole or the life and character of the property itself.
C. 
Examples of such deterioration include:
(1) 
Deterioration of exterior walls or other vertical supports.
(2) 
Deterioration of roofs or other horizontal members.
(3) 
Deterioration of exterior chimneys.
(4) 
Deterioration or crumbling of exterior stucco or mortar.
(5) 
Ineffective waterproofing of exterior walls, roofs or foundations, including broken windows or doors.
(6) 
Deterioration of any feature so as to create a hazardous condition detrimental to the public safety. Such a building structure or part thereof found to be in disrepair, in an unsafe or unusable condition or in any condition that may threaten the perpetuation or integrity of the same shall be in violation of this chapter.

§ 264-79 Emergency action by Building Inspector.

This article shall not apply in any case where the Building Inspector orders or directs the construction, removal, alteration or demolition of any improvement in an historic district for the purpose of remedying conditions determined to be unsafe or dangerous to the life, health or property of any person. However, prior to such order, the Building Inspector shall serve written notice to the Commission Chairman describing the location and particulars of the action to be taken.

§ 264-80 Penalties for offenses.

A. 
Failure to comply with any of the provisions of this article shall be deemed a violation, and the violator shall be liable to the fines and penalties as set forth in Article XVIII of this chapter of the Code of the City of Schenectady.
B. 
Any person who demolishes, alters, constructs or permits a designated property to fall into a serious state of disrepair in violation of this article shall be required to restore the property and its site to its appearance prior to the violation. Any action to enforce this subsection shall be brought by the City Attorney. This civil remedy shall be in addition to and not in lieu of any criminal prosecution and penalty.

§ 264-81 (Reserved)

§ 264-82 (Reserved)