National Park Service, Cultural Resources, Heritage Preservation Services
Strategies for Protecting Archeological Sites on Private Lands



Because archeological sites are part of the land, the preparation and uses of land can be major threats to archeological sites and the values associated with them. Approaches to archeological protection, therefore, can logically be found in those processes that govern how land can and cannot be used.

Many local communities, under authority from state enabling legislation, have the power to regulate the uses of private land through planning, zoning, subdivision, development and permitting review, and other similar mechanisms.

A developer is, in fact, a landowner - a special kind of landowner with very particular goals for the use of the land, which usually requires approvals from the local government.

Development projects can be either beneficial or catastrophic to archeological sites depending upon whether or not archeological resources are carefully considered during development planning and design, and during zoning, subdivision, and permit review. Local regulatory programs can be very effective in protecting archeological sites. See Case Study 18

Comprehensive Land-Use Planning. Local land-use plans are critical components of local government's power to regulate land use. Planning is a systematic process for establishing the public policy framework for a community's future growth and development. As a statement of public policy, the plan guides decision-making by the planning commission and elected officials and staff. Plans are typically implemented through zoning and subdivision ordinances, building codes, permitting procedures, and capital improvement budgets.
See Case Study 13
Archeological site protection is officially affirmed as community public policy. Opportunities for archeological site protection are routinely considered early in the community's land-use decision-making process. Planning's open public process can alert vandals to the presence of archeological sites. Consideration of archeological site protection can be neglected if it is not an integrated component of the community's policies and goals. When archeological protection issues are raised late in the process, such as during public hearings, options for protection can be very limited and conflict-laden.

Large Lot Zoning. Large minimum lot sizes, such as one, five, or ten acres per dwelling unit, reduce density by spreading development over a large area. Maintains low density and reduces impact on certain resources, such as water resources, in rural and forested areas. Provides space for flexibility in building design and location to allow site protection. Major factor in suburban sprawl. Resource-protection lands may be scattered and discontiguous, which can complicate the management of protected resources. Contributes to high real estate prices. Zoning can be changed to allow in-fill development.
Performance Zoning. Zoning categories are defined on the basis of permitted impacts, such as noise or air pollution, or those to natural or historic resources, instead of being based on the more traditional permitted uses. A variety of uses may be permitted in a single zone, as long as the impacts are within acceptable ranges and types. The local comprehensive plan, including consideration of resource protection, guides the location of development to resource compatible areas. Provides flexibility in types and designs of projects. Effectiveness is based on thorough understanding of resources and effects of impacts on them. Requires a detailed plan and a professional planning staff to develop, administer, and monitor the program.
Cluster Zoning, Open Space Zoning, or Planned Unit Development (PUD). Concentrating units together in smaller lots on a portion of the property, yet maintaining the overall density of traditional zoning, allows sensitive resources to be protected on the remainder of the property. A PUD is a mixed-use development usually on a large tract of land.
See Case Study 14
Cluster development allows for flexibility in design suitable for the resource protection needs of the parcel of land. Construction and infrastructure costs are reduced. Protected lands are often scattered and discontiguous. Clustering does not enjoy widespread popularity, especially in rural areas. Homeowner association may be unprepared to take on the responsibility for long-term management of common open space.
Overlay Zoning. Additional or stricter development standards and criteria are established to protect particular features of an existing land-use zone, such as historic districts, landscape features, scenic views, agricultural areas, or watersheds. Historic district zoning is a commonly used overlay zone. Not often used for archeological sites. Standards and criteria are developed specifically to meet the needs of the resources in the zone. Effective in protecting specific resources from development pressures. Overlay zone's standards must be defined clearly so that requirements are not misinterpreted, and to ensure that archeological sites can be protected. Zoning can be changed. Does not address protection needs outside the zone.
Subdivision. Partitioning land into smaller parcels for future development is often regulated by a local subdivision ordinance, which establishes design criteria for lots, streets, utilities, open space, and other public facilities and amenities. Subdivision design and plats must be reviewed and approved by the local government before the subdivision is legal. Some local communities require consideration of archeological site protection and other environmental issues in their subdivision ordinances and regulations.
See Case Study 14
Potentially powerful strategy for site protection. Developers consider, and have opportunities to incorporate, archeological site protection early in the subdivision design process. Increases possibilities for site protection. Subdivision design, review, and approval can occur many years before construction begins, leaving sites unprotected. Archeological sites can be damaged or destroyed if their presence is not considered during subdivision design, review, and approval, and construction proceeds.
Agricultural and Forestal Districts. Special district established to promote continuation of agricultural and forestry activities by protecting against suburban expansion and assessing property based on its actual use. Maintains land in agricultural and forestry use. Reduces owner's property tax through actual use assessment. Voluntary participation. Minimum acreage criteria. Does not provide long-term protection. Reduces local government tax revenue. Most effective in areas with development pressure.
Mandatory Dedication or Exaction. In order to receive subdivision approval, developer is required to dedicate a portion of the property (or pay a fee) to the local government for open space or parkland. Local community receives open space and protected lands and little cost. Care must be taken that the land being dedicated includes resources to be protected, and that these areas can be linked up to other protected areas. Homeowner associations may be unprepared to manage such protected areas.
Transfer or Purchase of Development Rights (TDR or PDR). The rights to develop one parcel of land are sold or transferred to another parcel of land, providing the opportunity to protect the resources on the first, in exchange for increasing development density on the second. TDR and PDR programs are carefully designed with "sending" (protection) areas and "receiving" (development) areas clearly identified. An effective growth management tool for local communities with the skill and expertise to establish and administer such a program. Resources can be protected with little financial outlay by the local community. Large tracts of protected land can be created in "sending" areas. Owners who sell development rights receive an income and continue to use their land. Property taxes should be reduced. Complicated program to establish and administer. There may be landowner resistance to being located in either "sending" or "receiving" areas. Purchasing development rights can be expensive.
Development or Site Plan Review. Process of reviewing, approving, negotiating and approving with conditions, or denying specific development project proposals for particular parcels of land. Applications for several kinds of permits, including grading and demolition, are also reviewed.
See Case Study 15; Case Study 16; Case Study 17; Appendix 5; Appendix 6
Ensures project compliance with the local community's established policies, regulations, standards, and criteria for development. Through negotiated conditions or proffers, allows regulations to be tailored to the specific needs of each project and parcel of land. Success requires established regulations, standards, and criteria for resource protection, and the presence of knowledgeable and skilled review staff.
Avoidance. A fairly common technique in which a project is designed so that construction avoids the archeological site, thereby "avoiding" impact and not damaging it. Diverts impacts, particularly those caused by construction and other ground disturbing activities. May be useful in the short term if no other strategies are feasible. Very short term and temporary. Ineffective as a protection strategy since no specific action is directly taken to protect the archeological site. Decision about site protection is merely postponed, resulting in possible site damage or destruction through other action taken later.

Federal and State Review. Under federal law, and under some state laws, environmental impact studies, assessments, or permit reviews that consider project impacts on natural, historic, or cultural resources, can be required of specific types of development. Depending upon the results of the review, the project may need to be redesigned or activities undertaken to ensure impacts to sensitive resources are mitigated. Provides the opportunity for all interested parties to consider the impacts of development on sensitive resources and to evaluate alternative strategies for resource protection. Review needs to be done early in the project for maximum benefit; often-lengthy process can stall development and increase costs. Can duplicate local review process.
Local Environmental Ordinances. Local communities have the authority to regulate land uses and development in areas containing sensitive resources, such as floodplains, coastlines, wetlands, and wildlife habitat. Some of these regulations may require environmental assessments similar to federal and state programs. Environmental ordinances can be tailored to the needs of the particular resources to be protected. Compliance, monitoring, and enforcement of local ordinances is likely to be more effective than for federal or state regulations. Strength of local ordinances depends upon the specific authority granted by state enabling legislation and on political will of the local community. The review process can be complicated and time-consuming.

Introduction | Considerations | Land Ownership | Financial Options | Development Regulations | Laws Specific to Archeology | Voluntary Strategies | Site Management | Taking the Initiative | Bibliography | Appendices | Home | Comments

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