As local governments approach these issues, historic preservation inevitably becomes a subject of interest.
As we know from experience, any great community is enhanced by looking to its future and new development but also by keeping a steady hand on its past. History can become an enhancer for our quality of life and a stimulator for economic development.
Most communities in Utah are blessed with historic resources; these resources may be individual sites or grouped in historic districts. Over the past few years, a number of communities have attempted to create new preservation ordinances or update existing ordinances to deal with such resources. Farmington, West Bountiful, Salt Lake City, and Ogden are four communities who have attempted this process at varying degrees.
Community development requires a balance and a careful approach. All too often, we find ourselves in a situation where we tear down the old in the name of progress, only to realize too late that the old could have been a better stimulus than the new.
Or we find ourselves so encumbered by the past that we don’t entertain the new.
If we create a balance and dialogue between old and new, we can take advantage of the benefits of both. The new can be given broader character by referring to heritage and tradition, while new development can reinvigorate the old.
In terms of historic preservation, the rubber meets the road at the local level. That is, most meaningful preservation of historic resources occurs at the city and county level.
As noted above, communities have to consider many factors when developing ordinances--and the preservation of history is one those many elements.
For a community interested in preserving its historic resources, a good preservation ordinance is a must. A well-written ordinance spells out what the local preservation program entails.
Any city or county in Utah may pass a local historic preservation ordinance. See state legislation:
Also, see the landmark 1978 Supreme Court case that forms the legal justification for most local preservation ordinances: Penn Central v. New York
Further, if a community elects to apply to become a Certified Local Government (CLG) in Utah, it must first adopt an historic preservation ordinance.
Ordinances should be written to meet the community’s interests and concerns, which are often outlined in a community’s general or master plan. Different levels of ordinances can have varying degrees of provisions.
For example, to participate in the CLG program in Utah, a city must write an ordinance that 1) establishes an historic preservation commission and 2) outlines the basic duties of that commission. That is the most basic approach.
Most commissions are relatively new at preservation and therefore should begin with a simple yet meaningful ordinance. However, we also recommend, at a minimum, that each city establish a system for recognizing historic properties and providing professional rehabilitation guidance. For instance a city could create a historical properties list that provides recognition only.
As a local preservation program matures, a city can add other sections to the ordinance that may include establishing a local landmark register that provides further recognition and that links to certain benefits and rehabilitation guidelines.
The ordinance may also include the establishment of standards, such as the nationally accepted rehabilitation standards (the Secretary of the Interior’s "Standards for Rehabilitation"), and design guidelines to assist the city and historic property owners in preserving the important features of their buildings.
See our Model Historic Preservation Ordinance (pdf)
Many communities in Utah have established landmarks commissions, ordinances and/or design guidelines. See the following links for examples:
The National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Park Service are good resources and they both provide information and advice for creating local ordinances. See these links:
Citizen's Guide to Protecting Historic Places – National Trust for Historic Preservation
Local Laws as Neighborhood Guardians – National Park Service
Zoning Tools – National Park Service
Local Historic Districts – National Park Service
In a broader perspective, it is also important to note that historic preservation and planning work hand in hand. Proper planning is essential for successful preservation programs and ordinances, and preservation can make a good plan better. See these links below for information on how to integrate preservation into your community planning.
Utah Preservation Planning Guide – Division of State History
The Utah State Historic Preservation Office’s guide to approaching local preservation planning activities.
Planning Policy Guide on Historic Resources – American Planning Association
Guide to historic and cultural resources policy.
Preservation Planning Standards and Guidelines – National Park Service
Secretary of the Interior’s standards and guidelines for preservation planning.
County Resource Management Planning – Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget
Information and a template for county resource management planning for historic resources.
There is clearly a lot of information regarding local historic preservation ordinances, and just like developing any element that makes up a community (whether it be historic preservation or land-use, transportation, housing, economic development, public infrastructure, natural resources, etc.) there is a lot to take into consideration.
Historic preservation ordinances require a balanced and careful approach. As such, the information provided here within is meant to assist cities and counties as a starting point and context in which local ordinances may be created.
For additional guidance and information, please contact Chris Hansen of the State Historic Preservation Office at email@example.com or 801/533-3561.