This is an image of a small historic house with a larger new house next to it. The new infill is proportionally out of scale and thus incompatible with this house and the other, smaller houses on the block. Photo: Dan Becker.
Local Laws as Neighborhood Guardians
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Working on the Past in Local Historic Districts
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Do you live in an older or historic community that is not a designated “historic district”?
A community, such as yours, represents a unique collection of resources, connected by time, place and feeling. Neighboring buildings and yards, streets, trees, sidewalks, alleys, public spaces, views, and vistas are all part of the “ensemble” you call home. This “collection” needs to be considered as important as each individual component, if the community character is going to remain for future generations to appreciate. Inappropriate changes that occur down the street or across town can ultimately affect an entire area.

Is any of this happening in your community?

This is an image of an out-of-scale accessiblity ramp installed as part of a new office building. It dominates historic buildings on the block because of its length and materials. Photo: NPS files.

Inappropriate alterations to buildings and sites, such as removal of distinctive later features (“earlying up”); removal or alteration of windows; application of aluminum, vinyl, or concrete siding where the use of wood is traditional; construction of highly visible rooftop additions or other out-of-scale additions to commercial and residential structures; installation of new parking lots and driveways in residential yards; radical changes to traditional planting schemes; or incompatible accessibility solutions.

Inappropriate alterations to the streetscape, such as installation of oversize signs or inappropriate awnings; brick sidewalks where they never existed historically; use of stock items from a product catalog to “revitalize” a public space; installation of “fake-historic” benches, lighting and signage; and planting out-of-scale decorative street trees.

Construction of out-of-character houses and businesses, such as “monster new homes” in residential neighborhoods or out-of-scale commercial buildings—or even entire new subdivisions of large-scale houses within or adjacent to a neighborhood of smaller houses.

What can your community do now?

your local elected officials about the features that make your neighborhood special and that these are important to keep. Tell them how you feel about loss and change “where you live.”

a local newspaper for the “letters-to-the-editor” column and get several signatures.

Become a local historic district.
Adopt a local preservation ordinance with provisions for designating historic resources, creating a local review board, and writing local design review guidelines.

to local officials that they examine the possibility of re-zoning the historic district based on actual use, rather than highest-and-best-use. Actual use recognizes the current use of a historic property, rather than the typical zoning based on other goals for the area, which often represent maximum build-out on the property and its most intense use designed for maximum economic return. Highest and best use can be incompatible with the continued preservation and use of historic properties, and can even result in the demolition of historic properties in an attempt to realize a more profitable use.

Check into National Register of Historic Places designation.
The best combination is local historic district designation as well as federal National Register designation. While local designation creates an opportunity for local design review, federal designation provides additional potential for federal grant-in-aid funds and tax credits.

NOTE: Print all of Section 'b' in PDF format.