A proposed rules update would allow the New Orleans Historic District Landmarks Commission’s staff to approve more applications for solar panels on historic buildings. At the HDLC’s meeting on March 6, the staff proposed updates to the Solar Panel Design Guidelines after months of research and meeting with stakeholders.

The proposal would allow HDLC staff (rather than the commission) to approve more applications, even when solar panels are deemed visually prominent. The updates simplify the process while still maintaining best practices in historic preservation. The commission deferred acting on the proposed updates to allow further public comment at the April HDLC meeting.

In the meantime, the commission approved visible roof-mounted solar equipment at 1000 Poland Ave. in the Bywater Historic District. Constructed circa 1920 as an accessory storage building for a car barn, the building was converted into stables before 1937, subsequently became vacant, and was recently renovated into a single-family residence between 2018 and 2023.

In other business, the commission voted on conceptual approval for the new construction of a 27,500-square-foot commercial building in the Irish Channel. The project will replace the existing warehouse at 622 Pleasant St., which has been used by artists and small business owners. Uptown, the commission recommended approval for the demolition of just more than half the wall structure of the residence at 5130 Laurel St. to add a side and rear addition.

Using metal as a replacement material was requested for several applications. At 509 Olivier St. in the Algiers Point Historic District, the commission approved the use of Permalock, an interlocking shingle system for use as a metal roof option. The application for new aluminum louvered shutters to replace historic wood shutters at 2108-2110 N. Rampart St. in the Faubourg Marigny was deferred by the commission to do further study.

Several applicants asked to retain work that had been done without proper permitting. At 2430 N. Rampart St. in the Faubourg Marigny, the applicant requested retention of design changes and wall demolition that deviated from the Certificate of Appropriateness. The commission approved the retention and levied a fine of $10,000. The applicant for 2001-2003 St. Ann St. in Esplanade Ridge was not present, so the commission voted to defer the retention application for one month since a Tier 3 ($16,750-$25,000) fine was recommended by staff.

Two applicants in the Bywater sought to retain windows that had been installed at mismatched heights on the front and/or side facades. At 1032-1034 Montegut St., the commission allowed the retention on the side elevation but required the applicant to move the front window to match the height of the transoms above the front doors. At 639 Desire St., the commission voted to allow the retention of the mismatched heights of several windows on the side wall because they are not visually prominent and are part of a largely altered elevation.

The commission voted not to recommend the vacant building at St. Claude General Hospital, 3419 St. Claude Ave., for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The building was constructed between 1971 and 1973, and the staff concluded that its design and history did not rise to the level of significance necessary to justify inclusion in the National Register.    

At the Central Business District HDLC meeting, commissioners considered the installation of visually prominent roof-mounted HVAC equipment at 468 St. Joseph St., part of a project utilizing historic rehabilitation tax credits. The commission approved installing the HVAC units on roof platforms, but included in the motion that if the National Park Service denied this option during the tax credit application process, they would alternatively approve alteration to the roof to allow the larger rear units to be recessed slightly. Next, the commission voted to deny the retention of a fence and gate between the columns at 518 S. Rampart St., the Canal Commercial Bank, which is a local landmark. The inappropriate fencing had been installed in 2016 without a Certificate of Appropriateness.    

MaryNell Nolan-Wheatley is PRC’s Advocacy Coordinator & Public Policy Research Director.