Local Laws as Neighborhood Guardians
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National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior with link to ParkNet National Park Service arrowhead with a link to ParkNet
This is an image of what is now the North Main Historic District, Oshkosh, Wisconcin, in 1909. The black and white photo includes bicycles, buggies and the Bijou movie theater at the end of the horse-drawn age. Photo: Courtesy, August Tiedje.
Working on the Past in Local Historic Districts
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The preservation ordinance is a law. And, since the notion of a law may seem somewhat overwhelming at first, here is what a national expert says:

"The preservation ordinance is nothing more than local legislation enacted to protect buildings and neighborhoods from destruction or insensitive rehabilitation…"
Pratt Cassity, Maintaining Community Character: How to Establish a Local Historic District. National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2000.

When it comes to preserving private property in a historic district, most people are surprised to learn that  a local law is generally stronger than a federal law—that only sharp local teeth are able to guard the historic character of a community. Whereas federal historic preservation law is applied specifically to individual work projects when federal grants-in-aid or the federal rehabilitation tax credit are involved,  a local historic preservation ordinance  controls inappropriate "exterior remodeling," and demolition within an entire historic district.

This superior legal strength is derived from the combined voice of residents. It means that the majority of a community—after discussion and debate—has agreed to use local laws as a tool to preserve the historic character of their residences, commercial businesses, and streetscapes for long-term public benefit. And best of all, the local laws can be enforced locally.

If your local government wants to become—or has already become—an official member of the national historic preservation partnership, there are some federal and state requirements for the local ordinance. [ See the page on Certified Local Governments (CLG) for more information. ]