Training for Historic Preservation Commissions: Part Three

By Forum Online posted 03-26-2013 15:34

Read Part One and Part Two of this series.

This is final post in our three-part series about an online and onsite training program for local preservation commissioners developed by the Maryland Association of Historic District Commissions (MAHDC). Last week’s post focused on the experience of one of the participants. This week we hear from two of the trainers.

In order to accomplish its goal to bring training to the commissioners, MAHDC conducted invitation-only “train the trainer” sessions to certify regional experts to teach the onsite courses. The training session served as an opportunity to bring a dozen or so professionals together from all over the state to review the instructor’s manuals for the two training courses (law/ethics and design review), review the case studies, and have a discussion about how to educate commissioners on difficult topics, such as substitute materials and crafting a defensible motion.

The two MAHDC-certified trainers we interviewed were extremely positive about the benefits of the program and their experience as trainers. Kees de Mooy, zoning administrator for the Town of Chestertown says, “Improving the level of training for historic district commissioners makes them more confident, and decreases the likelihood that they will make bad decisions (“bad” from a legal or procedural standpoint). Consistent, defensible decisions are key to a review process that is seen as fair and equitable by the general public.”

Both trainers noted that preservation commission members are usually volunteers who arrive at the table with some knowledge of preservation or a related field, but may not have experience interpreting architectural guidelines or making decisions that have significant legal consequences. Kees de Mooy, emphasizes that these volunteers “may not be versed in the intricacies of preservation law, how to read a blueprint, or the criteria by which applications should be judged. This is especially true in less urbanized areas…where finding professionals to serve on historic district commissions (HDC) can be very difficult, and where the need for specialized training is most urgent.”

Another benefit of the onsite training program was the opportunity to bring commissioners from different communities together. Kees de Mooy says that “attendees benefit from the impromptu discussion that invariably takes place, when there is an opportunity to learn from each other. For instance, one jurisdiction may treat window replacement differently than another, or the way that one community handles solar panel applications may be helpful to a historic district that has not had any, but they know that it won’t be long until they do.”

Sharon A. Kennedy, a MAHDC-certified trainer who has served as chair of the Annapolis Historic Preservation Commission since 2006, explains that the trainings attract more than just commission members. Because outside stakeholders are affected by preservation commission decisions, home and business owners, planners, and architects also attend the trainings. Kennedy says, “When these constituencies understand more clearly the basis of commission decisions they are much more likely to support the overall mission of the commission.”

Workshop participants weren’t the only ones benefitting from the training program. Kennedy comments, “The training has heightened my awareness as the chair that all our decisions must be grounded in specific legal authority given to the commission by state and local law; that the application of the Secretary of Interior Standards as it relates to design criteria is a subjective matter that must be articulated in a consistent and predictable manner; that decisions must be defensible but not unanimous given the flexibility and ambiguity inherent in the process.”

To learn more about the Maryland Association of Historic District Commissions online training visit Read Part One and Part Two of this series.

For other training possibilities for historic preservation commissioners visit the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions. Also keep an eye out for commission specific sessions at the 2013 National Preservation Conference.


#Education #historicpreservationcommissions

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