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Local Initiatives 

12-09-2015 17:35

preservation is a fundamentally local activity and the most effective innovations continue to be implemented at the local level. Preservation organizations, planning and community development agencies and citizen activists have established over 1200 historic preservation commissions. Although the level and kind of leadership funding, protection and education efforts vary dramatically in localities throughout the country, several important developments reflect the evolution and increasing sophistication of local preservation efforts.

The most important initiatives at the local level are the new generation of historic preservation ordinances. Local ordinances are the strongest preservation laws. New ordinance provisions have been developed that respond to interpretation and scrutiny by courts and a more powerful preservation movement. Some of the most innovative provisions are the protection of views, interior spaces and archeological resources; the regulation of signs and billboards in historic areas; the proof required of property owners alleging undue economic hardship resulting from the ordinance; the requirement that a property owner seeking and receiving permission to demolish a historic building obtain approval simultaneously for replacement construction and that he provide proof of financial ability to complete the project; the prevention of demolition by neglect; the provision of emergency securing measures to insure that dilapidated historic buildings not be demolished unnecessarily by municipal government; the creation of conservation districts and buffer zones; and the provision of meaningful and effective civil penalties.

A negative trend has been the pressure to include owner consent provisions in ordinances. Although these provisions are the result of the politics of having an ordinance adopted, a property owner`s desires should not affect an objective judgment by a review board, zoning commission or city council based on valid criteria. Two of the most innovative and comprehensive local ordinances are those passed in the last few years in Chicago and San Antonio. Both reflect unfortunate political compromises, but serve as good general models of strong local laws.

The Certified Local Government (CLG) Program, administered by the National Park Service (NPS), further strengthens local authority. There are over 400 CLGs and all states have CLG certification programs. Although each state`s CLG program differs, and the philosophy of individual SHPOs vary concerning CLGs, all have common elements and the programs are geared to increase the ability of local governments to go about the business of historic preservation.

A key component of this is public education. The effectiveness of a local historic preservation program in a community is determined by the support and understanding of: (1) the public at large, and (2) local government staff and elected officials. To gain their support, comprehensive public educatian campaigns should be started. Local budgets rarely include funds for these kinds of activities. The benefits are usually noticed after the project is completed rather than before. Therefore, the CLG program has been able to bolster community education and preservation planning endeavors by offering grants and directing technical assistance specifically to local governments.

Along with help provided through the CLG program, the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions (NAPC) has been instrumental in assisting national, state and local organizations to better understand how commissions work. The NAPC has encouraged the formation of statewide alliances of commissions and often participates in local commission training programs. The NAPC is a young organization with room to grow. A new member campaign and member services program is being developed and will be unveiled this spring. New cooperative arrangements with NPS, the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, the National Trust and the National Center for Preservation Law are being explored to provide direct assistance to commissions, local planning staff, SHPO staff and nonprofit organizations. Establishing new commissions and the training of commission members is a high priority. In the words of one NAPC board member, "Wherever there are historic resources, we will help set up an ordinance and commission and provide training opportunities to protect them."

Publication Date: Spring 1988


Author(s):Pratt Cassity

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