People Protecting Community Resources
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This is an image of Oakwood Historic District, Raleigh, North Carolina. It was the State's first local historic district, created in 1975. Photo: Dan Becker.

Working on the Past in Local Historic Districts
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"The primary strength of a local designation is that it can be tailored to specific community needs and provides greater protection for local resources."
City of Prescott, Arizona, Master Plan, 1997

Does listing in the National Register mean that your house and neighborhood or city's main street will be protected from time and change—forever preserved? Many people think so, and this is a common misunderstanding. While National Register listing is a tremendous honor and carries some financial opportunities as well, "Under federal law, owners of private property listed in the National Register are free to maintain, manage, or dispose of their property as they choose, provided that there is no Federal involvement."
Quote from the National Register of Historic Places.

As opposed to the more honorary National Register listing and federal or state law, local designation can be a first step toward legally preserving historic landmarks, neighborhoods and downtown areas in your community.

This is an image of compatible contemporary infill within Oakwood Historic District, Raleigh, North Carolina. Photo: Dan Becker.So, although private property owners do have rights under any type of listing or designation, it's important to be aware of what those rights really are—and how effectively administered local laws, in particular, may work to protect the character of your neighborhood.

Note the basic differences in protection and requirements between local designation and National Register listing:

Local Designation
(as part of a historic preservation ordinance)

Designates historic properties on the basis of local criteria and local procedures.

Sets boundaries based on the distribution pattern of historic properties, and other community considerations.

Provides recognition of a community's significant properties.

Coupled with a design review process, such as a historic preservation commission or architectural review board, provides protection of character-defining exterior features of a property, but, in many cases, not historic interiors or archaeological sites.

May qualify a property for a form of financial assistance, such as a local tax incentive for historic preservation, if the local government has passed a tax incentives ordinance.

Can provide for review of proposed demolitions within the district, and provide delays to allow for preservation alternatives to be considered.

Can require local commission review and approval for all changes to the exterior appearance of historic properties, and review approval for all new construction, such as infill, e.g., adjacent new buildings on a site or on vacant parcels.

These are side by side images of Pike Place Historical Market in Seattle, Washington. One shows the market during daytime; the other at night with a neon sign that says 'Public Market Center.' Photos: Courtesy, Pike Place Preservation and Development Authority.

National Register Listing
(as an honorary status with some federal financial incentives)

Designates historic properties based on uniform national criteria and procedures.

Sets boundaries for historic districts based on the actual distribution pattern of intact historic properties in the area.

Provides recognition by the federal government that an area has historical or archeological significance.

Requires the effects of federally assisted work projects (actions) on historic properties be considered prior to the commencement of work. Makes available federal tax incentives for qualified rehabilitation projects. Requires conformance to the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation (36 CFR 67).

Makes a property eligible for HPF pre-development planning grants (such as plans and specs) and also "bricks and mortar" repair grants, if selected by the SHPO for grant assistance. Work projects require conformance to the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties (36 CFR 68).

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