Historic Designations

Local Preservation Laws
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Preservation Law 101

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Properties are identified or designated as landmarks and historic districts by local legislative bodies or preservation boards based on detailed research and a rigorous review process. Sometimes, however, the preservation commission or another administrative body may be empowered to designate individual properties and/ or districts.

Most jurisdictions designate historic districts or both historic districts and individual landmarks. While designations may include the entire historic structure, many communities extend protection only to the exteriors of such properties, and in some cases, only to those facades visible from a public way. Some communities also protect interior spaces, especially those spaces open to the general public. 

Properties may be identified as contributing or noncontributing in historic districts. This determination, in turn, may dictate the level of review that will be applied. Contributing properties may enjoy full protection while changes to non-contributing property (including vacant land) are generally approved if "compatible" with the character of the historic district. A few jurisdictions also recognize distinctions among individual landmarks, providing the highest level of protection for properties of "exceptional importance."

The preservation ordinance sets forth the criteria for designation and the process for considering applications for designation. More detailed information may also be contained in implementing regulations. While variations exist from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, historic designations are generally initiated by the property owner, preservation organizations or neighborhood associations, or the preservation commission itself, after conducting a survey of historic properties within the community.