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Some discussion about Historic Designation benefits

December 9th, 2010 · No Comments


Angela Threadgill has sent you a message.

Date: 10/20/2010

Subject: District designation notes

Hello Ron,

As a follow-up to the preservation forum, I hope to offer some good information to you. I’m happy to read your community agrees that some laws or regulations are needed; however, the downside is they fear the regulations just the same. Fearing the taxes, more regulations, perceived costs, and other neighbors that may circumvent the approval process are all legitimate concerns.

I remember over a decade ago when the skeptics were worried local historic district designation decreased property values due to the perceived costs of complying with preservation regulations. Numerous helpful studies showed property values increased in locally designated districts at a greater rate than non-designated districts. And preservation regulations can save owners money through the requirements of repairing components rather than replacing whole units, among other beneficial costs.

Now the skeptics have shifted the discussion to worries over increased property taxes as a result of local district designation. Well, there’s no denial increased property values also increase property taxes, but what is the tie to designation? Well, local historic preservation activities may offset the climb in property taxes. Specifically, in a study by Rutgers, an interesting conclusion showed preservation activities, primarily local designations, among New Jersey municipalities correlated with an expanded local tax base. Thus, when the tax base increased the local governments were able to balance their budget with decreased tax rates thereby keeping the property taxes at a reasonable level. In essence, the property owner gets the benefit of increased property values without the inflated tax bill. Moreover, an increase in property taxes may be offset tenfold by state and federal tax reduction programs. Tenfold is an exaggeration, but the point is there is a greater incentive to be designated than not to be.

During my years of assisting neighborhoods during the designation process, I couldn’t stress enough that the neighborhood was writing their own regulations to fit their goals rather than writing them for the pleasure of the review commission or the city. In each neighborhood I had them start with listing attributes that made the neighborhood special and then I linked the list to the unique history, planning, and architecture. This helps bring a focus to why the neighborhood deserves protection and what topics should be covered in the regulations. The third exercise discussed how the current zoning regulations protect or don’t protect the attributes they listed, which typically shows the vulnerability of historic resource protection. While this takes months of community meetings, it helps community members turn their fears of regulations into an action plan that benefits their neighborhood.

As with any regulations or codes, they’re only as good as the enforcement. Neighbors that don’t follow the process or regulations should be penalized in some fashion for non-compliance. The enforcement capacity of city staffers should be in place, made part of the preservation ordinance, and made known to all designated districts. With this said though, I found that the more neighbors involved in the writing of the regulations, the more willing they are to comply with them.

The topics of historic district designation and preservation ordinances are vast, in which I’ve had good experience. I could go on and on. As concerns arise during Burlington’s process, post it to the linkedin forum or the National Trust’s forum – the discussions are helpful to us all. And of course, you’re welcome to send me a message directly.


Angela Threadgill

Tags: Value-Added Historic Preservation · Wanamaker Restoration

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