Local Preservation Laws

Historic preservation ordinances offer the greatest protection for historic resources.

These laws protect individual sites and historic districts through a permitting process that requires advance review of proposed projects by a preservation commission, or other administrative body. Such projects can range from applications to replace a historic window or door to plans for a new addition, or even demolition. Today, more than 2,300 historic preservation ordinances have been enacted across the country.

While similar in many respects, preservation ordinances can differ widely from place to place. Variations may arise, for example, because of specific limitations on permissible regulatory action imposed at the state level or because of differing levels of political support for preservation in a given community. No single approach works in every situation, and thus, historic preservation ordinances are generally tailored to meet the individual needs of the community and the resources being protected.

Historic preservation commissions or design review boards administer most local ordinances. They are administrative bodies of local governments with members appointed by a mayor and/or legislative body that have interest and/or expertise in disciplines relevant to historic preservation. Commissions rule by majority vote and may have either binding or advisory review authority over historic designations or changes to historic properties, and in some cases, they must be consulted regarding other land use actions affecting historic resources, such as a request for a variance or the subdivision of land. The historic preservation commission, however, is the governmental agency that grants or denies a permit to change historic property.

Besides establishing a preservation commission, historic preservation ordinances generally set forth procedures and criteria for the designation of historic properties, along with procedures and criteria for reviewing requests to alter, move, or demolish such properties. Preservation ordinances also allow for consideration of hardship and other issues of special concern and establish a process for appeal and enforcement of its terms.

FAQ on Historic Preservation Ordinances

Interested in learning more? Take a look at our answers to frequently asked questions on historic preservation ordinances. Although no two preservation ordinances are alike, many are similar in design and scope.  

Quick Links

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