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NEW CASTLE City's historical district discussed by council

By Laure Cioffi

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Council will consider new golf course rates.
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- City council is considering adding some regulations to help protect the city's historical district.
Council members talked about instituting a zoning overlay that would require residents living in the city's historical district -- an area that encompasses most of the North Hill section -- to go before a board if they want to make any changes to their property. That board would have certain requirements and regulations that must be followed.
Larry Hecky, an architect who is helping city officials with the downtown revitalization project, told council members at their Tuesday caucus session that zoning overlays are common throughout the country.
He suggested that council consider zoning overlays for all areas of the city, including the downtown business district.
First priority
But council members said they first wanted to concentrate on the city's historical district, which got its designation through the National Register of Historic Places three years ago.
Hecky is expected to come back to council in February with an overlay proposal. He said the intent of the overlay will be to ensure that any new structures or additions to buildings are done in context with the architecture already in place.
"We want to preserve the character of the neighborhood," he said.
Councilwoman Patricia May suggested the overlay last month after noting that changes were being made to buildings that took away from their historical design.
"One of our problems is that we have so many landlords that don't care what they do to a home. They enclose porches and do other things so they can get every square inch of humanity in those homes," she said.
May added that the overlay will protect single-family homes and maintain property values.
Not too strict
Mayor Timothy Fulkerson, however, warned that the overlay regulations shouldn't become too stringent because it could keep people out of the neighborhood.
He noted that some communities with these regulations tell the homeowners what colors they can paint homes and the types of windows that must be used, and designate the use of other items that are expensive.
"We also may be discriminating against the low-income people because they can't afford these things," Fulkerson said.
Tax exemptions
In other business, council members say they want owners of tax-exempt property in the city to pay something in lieu of their taxes.
May said 33 percent of the city's property is tax exempt, which would equate to about $1.7 million more in taxes each year if they were on the tax rolls. She asked that the city send letters to those property owners asking them to contribute something to the city.
In addition, lawmakers asked city solicitor James Manolis to look over the list of tax-exempt property owners to determine if anyone's tax-exempt status should be challenged.
Golf rates
Council also is planning to introduce new rates for the city-owned Sylvan Heights golf course at its Thursday meeting.
Memberships and golf cart storage costs are expected to increase by $50 each. Greens fees and golf cart rental rates would be increased by 50 cents under the proposal. Golfers 80 and older who have been members for 15 years or longer would be asked to pay a $50 yearly fee. They currently golf for free.
Council members say the increases are needed to make up for a projected $30,000 deficit in the golf course budget this year.