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Barnes v. Philadelphia Historical Commission

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

August 13, 2019

David J. Barnes, Executor Estate of Grace V. Barnes, Appellant
v.
Philadelphia Historical Commission

          Argued: June 3, 2019

          BEFORE: HONORABLE ANNE E. COVEY, Judge, HONORABLE CHRISTINE FIZZANO CANNON, Judge, HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, Senior Judge

          OPINION

          ANNE E. COVEY, JUDGE

         David J. Barnes (Barnes), Executor for the Estate of Grace V. Barnes (Grace Barnes/mother) (collectively, Owner), [1] appeals from the Philadelphia County Common Pleas Court's (trial court) February 16, 2018 order affirming the Philadelphia Historical Commission's (Commission) April 13, 2017 order designating Owner's 559 Righter Street, Philadelphia (City), Pennsylvania, residence (Property) as historic and adding it to the City's Register of Historic Places (Register). There are four issues before the Court: (1) whether Owner's appeal is moot; (2) whether the Commission's designation is void because it did not receive a majority vote of the Commission members present; (3) whether the Commission's designation is supported by the criteria set forth in Section 14-1004(1) of the Historic Preservation provisions in the Philadelphia Code (Preservation Ordinance); and (4) whether the Commission's designation imposes an extraordinary economic impact upon, and is unduly oppressive to, Owner. After review, we dismiss this appeal as moot.

         Section 14-1003(2)(a) of the Preservation Ordinance authorizes the Commission to "[d]esignate as historic those buildings, structures, sites, and objects that the [Commission] determines are significant to the City, pursuant to the criteria of [Section] 14-1004(1) [of the Preservation Ordinance]." Preservation Ordinance § 14-1003(2)(a). Section 14-1004(1) of the Preservation Ordinance provides, in relevant part:

A building, complex of buildings, structure, site, object, or district may be designated for preservation if it:
(a) Has significant character, interest, or value as part of the development, heritage, or cultural characteristics of the City, Commonwealth, or nation or is associated with the life of a person significant in the past;
. . . .
(c) Reflects the environment in an era characterized by a distinctive architectural style;
(d) Embodies distinguishing characteristics of an architectural style or engineering specimen; [or]
. . . .
(i) Has yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in pre-history or history[.]

         Preservation Ordinance § 14-1004(1). The effect of having a property designated as an historic landmark is that "no person shall alter or demolish a historic building, structure, site, or object" without the Commission's approval.[2] Preservation Ordinance § 14-1005(1).

         On September 19, 2016, the Commission staff nominated the Property for designation as an historic building under the Preservation Ordinance because it met criteria a, c, d and i of Section 14-1004(1) of the Preservation Ordinance.[3] See Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 36a; see also R.R. at 37a-65a, 80a.

         By September 20, 2016 letter, the Commission notified Owner that the Property had been nominated for designation as an historic landmark and inclusion on the Register. See R.R. at 67a-72a. Owner was therein informed that the Commission would consider the Property's nomination and accept public comment at its October 21 and November 10, 2016 meetings, and invited Owner to participate at those meetings. See R.R. at 67a-70a.

         On October 3, 2016, at Owner's request, the Commission supplied Owner with the nomination-related paperwork. See R.R. at 74a. By October 19, 2016 letter, the Wissahickon Interested Citizens Association informed the Commission that it was not opposed to the Property's nomination. See R.R. at 76a. On October 21, 2016, Owner's legal counsel, William J. O'Brien, II, Esquire (O'Brien), informed the Commission that the Barnes' family had owned the Property for 115 years and, since the designation was a matter of great significance, requested the ...


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