Tools and strategies for preserving community character
Many communities want to protect the historic character of their downtowns, village centers, neighborhoods or rural areas. A range of tools and strategies are available, listed to the right; most towns working to preserve historic character utilize a combination of tools and strategies.
Some communities have created Heritage Commissions, an appointed group that works on behalf of historic resources town-wide but has no regulatory authority. This appointed body works much like a conservation commission, but on behalf of historic rather than natural resources.
Preserving Community Character: A Preservation Planning Handbook for New Hampshire published by the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance is a comprehensive guide. You may purchase the publication at our bookstore by calling 603-224-2281 or find links to key elements in the sections below.
Master Plan Chapter
Advocates for preservation can make an immediate contribution to preservation planning by working with town government to include a chapter on Historic and Cultural Resources as an optional component of the state-required municipal Master Plan. Master Plans contain descriptive information, analysis of local trends, technical data and annotated maps, and formulate policies for the community to manage and direct growth, development and change. The historical and cultural resources chapter should provide an historical overview, identify significant resources and areas that illustrate that history, and offer goals and action items to manage change that might impact those resources. A heritage commission should take an active role in writing this chapter, but volunteers can also come together to compile this information, and might want to include the recommendation that the town form a heritage commission.
Demolition Review Ordinance
Several of New Hampshire's heritage commissions have spearheaded demolition review ordinances for their community. While the ordinance does not prevent demolition of a historic building, it does bring the proposed action to the attention of the heritage commission and the general public. Through community discussion, education and exploration of alternatives, demolition review ordinances have helped save a number of buildings from the wrecking ball. Other benefits include keeping a historic property on the tax rolls and spurring creative new development.
Certified Local Government Program (CLG)
The CLG program offers a partnership between a municipal government and the state historic preservation office as a means to encourage and expand local involvement in preservation-related activities. The Division of Historical Resources (DHR) designates at least 10 percent of its annual Historic Preservation Fund allocation from the Department of the Interior to support Certified Local Governments.
Municipal governments must apply for admission to the program, and to be eligible, they must have established a historic preservation review body that has regulatory responsibilities. That review body is then also responsible for advising the municipal government and its land use boards (planning board, zoning board of adjustment, and conservation commission) and becomes the coordinator for municipal preservation activities. It prepares reports on National Register of Historic Places nominations for all properties within the community (not just those within a historic district), sponsors public information programs on historic preservation, and prepares applications for matching grants from the CLG share of the state’s annual Historic Preservation Fund allocation. The DHR provides training for the CLG commission and offers ongoing technical assistance to help the community and the commission conduct historic preservation projects, address preservation issues and opportunities, and resolve concerns relating to federally assisted activities that may affect historic properties.
Matching grants from Certified Local Governments can be used to fund community preservation activities such as historic resource surveys, National Register nominations, preservation planning, and educational projects. In some years, grants are also available for architectural plans and specifications, engineering reports, and even “bricks and mortar” work on National Register properties.
Public and Municipal Education
Promoting the public benefit of preserving historical and cultural resources can be done at any time. It is especially valuable when decisions are being made about public policy or there is an urgent issue to be resolved. Keeping the tone positive and unbiased is important, as is making an effort to reach a broad audience and being as inclusive as possible.
A heritage commission or historic district may make this a priority, but other groups can take the lead and participate as well. There are multiple ways to raise awareness including lectures, walking tours, plaques or signage, exhibits on local history and distinctive citizens, school presentations, preservation awards programs, websites, and newsletter or newspaper articles.
Historic Barn Easements
In 2002 the State of New Hampshire passed legislation to encourage preservation of historic agricultural structures by allowing discretionary preservation easements coupled with a tax incentive mechanism. The statute defines agricultural structures to include barns, silos, corn cribs, ice houses and other outbuildings.
Today, this popular program is in use in many towns across the state and offers tax relief to the owners of hundreds of agricultural structures.
In essence, the program provides property tax relief for owners of historic barns who agree to maintain the structures in keeping with their historic integrity and character for a minimum of ten years. Using statewide eligibility criteria and guidelines, the municipality considers applications for the program, and may grant tax relief by reducing the structure's assessed value from 25 - 75 percent for as long as the easement is in effect.
Heritage commissions are ideally suited to identify, promote, and advise the local governing body on this program, as well as assisting in the implemention.
Links To Pages Within Community Planning