Jumping through the proverbial hoops:
Tackling the many legal layers of this project makes me yearn for the spontaneity of my Buffalo days. Soon, I will submit exterior drawings to the Historic District Commission. Once they approve the historic "appropriateness" of the proposal, I can submit to the Zoning department, which may take up to two months to process - and a steep fee to boot. Then I'll be free to apply for building, electrical, plumbing, and mechanical permits, also taking 1-2 months to process.
The property is currently zoned as R2 - Neighborhood Business. This is a great fit for the types of spaces we'd like in the house - a mix of public and private spaces. But it carries a lot of catches: accessibility and egress requirements, and fire suppression. After a long search for ways around it with our official architect - Freeman Greer of GAV Associates - we've realized this is unavoidable for a building with a public component. A sprinkler system for this building will cost $30,000-40,000. This is required by law. Never mind that unoccupied as it is, it's a tinderbox.
The answer may be to re-zone it as residential. While this carries an even steeper fee with the zoning department, it may save tens of thousands down the road, and allow greater flexibility of space inside. With this, there cannot be an official public component to this building, but like any house, can be opened to public for parties, meetings, and other gatherings as the occupants see fit. Since there won't be a regular exchange of goods as in a typical business, and by suggesting donations at events, a residential zoning should do well.
Time to rearrange all the plans I just finished.