City Council on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to a proposal to nominate the Lawrenceville neighborhood for the National Register of Historic Places.
Councilwoman Deborah Gross said a national register status is different than historic designation through the city’s Historic Review Commission, because the former doesn’t restrict how property owners can maintain, update or renovate buildings within the district.
“So if your home is suddenly in a nationally registered historic district, you don’t have any restrictions whatsoever,” she said. “You do have a badge of honor.”
Property owners would also have access to special federal grants and tax abatements for historic preservation, though restrictions do come into play when federal dollars are used.
“If you were going to do an adaptive re-use of a major structure you would have to make sure that you met the standards for historic preservation … but you’d also have greater ability to finance your project,” he said.
It will cost the city $75,000 to hire a consultant to prepare the nomination. One-third of that was already set aside in the 2014 Capital Budget, according to Pittsburgh Planning Director Ray Gastil. Another $25,000 will come from the Urban Redevelopment Authority while the remainder comes from the Pennsylvania Museum and Historical Commission.
“They look to see the age of the structures, they look at the condition of the structures, they look at the fabric, whether it’s contiguous, whether there are blocks and blocks of one type of historic resource, and they look more generally at the history of the entire district,” Gastil said.
The consultant’s findings will be passed on to the commission, which will then determine whether to officially nominate Lawrenceville for the national listing.
Nomination is part of the city’s Cultural Heritage and Historic Preservation Plan, which was finalized in 2012. The Strip District received its register status last year.
Gross said when the plan was created, few people could have anticipated the rapid pace of development in Lawrenceville. She said if they had, city leadership likely would have pursued the nomination sooner.
“The parts of the neighborhood that are so quaint, so charming, that have attracted everybody there, that are so human, that are so walkable and livable and all of the values we’re trying to achieve in new development, we have in the 100- to 150-year-old development," she said. "We’re talking about what we can do to keep that character intact.”
Gross said national historic status is just one way to maintain the character of the neighborhood as development continues. She said two residential complexes totaling more than 750 units and a hotel are planned near the 40th Street Bridge, one of the main entrances to Lawrenceville.
Gastil said it is important to maintain not just the architectural feel of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods, but also the cultural heritage and the stories of people who have lived there.
“I think that’s the important point here, is that history is part of our future,” he said.
Council will take a final vote on the nomination bills next week.