Our “How to Save a Place” toolkit series has guided you through the wilderness of managing your personal expectations during a preservation project, understanding the difference between federal, state, and local preservation groups, and fundraising basics. In this toolkit, we’re going to help you navigate the thicket of historic designations.
These tips will help you better understand the difference between federal, state, and local designations, their benefits, and their application processes.
Read the "How to Save a Place" series to date: http://blog.preservationnation.org/tag/how-to-save-a-place/
[Preservation Tips & Tools] How to Save a Place: Apply for Historic Designation
How to Save a Place
APPLY FOR HISTORIC
Federal designations include the
National Historic Landmarks
(NHL) Program and listing on the
National Register for Historic
Places (NR or National
Register). Both the National
Historic Landmarks Program and
the National Register for Historic
Places are managed by the
National Park Service.
National Historic Landmarks Program
NHLs are places that have the strongest association with a significant
event or best tell the story of a person who played a significant role in
our nation’s history. NHLs relate stories that are important to the
history of the nation as a whole, not just local communities or states.
National Register for Historic Places
The National Register focuses on sites and properties that are more
than 50 years old and interpret stories that are important to a local
community, the residents of a specific state, or to all Americans.
Historic places that are less than 50 years old can be listed on the
National Register, but must adhere to special criteria and guidelines.
Historic properties or sites can be listed on a state register, which is
managed by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). Not all
states have registers, so contact your SHPO to learn the ins-and-outs
of your state’s policies.
Local communities enact preservation ordinances. These ordinances
create a process by which properties may be designated as individual
landmarks or as contributing structures within a historic district. Each
ordinance is tailored to fit the needs of each individual community.
In general, a historic site can have local, state, and federal designations.
Benefits of Federal Historic Designation
Both the National Register and NHL offer protections from federal government
work that threatens a historic site (when building a highway, for example). They
may also make property owners eligible for preservation funds and federal
historic tax credits that can help offset the costs of rehabilitation.
Benefits of State Historic Designation
Listing on the state register protects a historic place from state
government work and makes it eligible for state funding and tax
Benefits of Local Designation
Local preservation ordinances are one of the best forms of legal
protection a historic place can have because they protect it from local
zoning and development laws. They also give property owners more
confidence in the long-term stability of the neighborhood.
Although the National Park Service manages the NHL and the National
Register, each has a different application process.
How to Apply for NHL Listing
For the NHL program, the owner, a preservation organization, or an interested
member of the general public must nominate the property. After NHL staff
reviews and approves the nomination, it passes to the Landmarks Committee,
which then reviews, approves, and recommends the nomination to the
Secretary of the Interior, which makes the final call for NHL designation. The
process can take anywhere from two to five years.
How to Apply for NR Listing
For the National Register, a site is nominated to the State Historic
Preservation Office, who, after approving the nomination, sends it to
the National Park Service for final review by the Keeper of the
National Register. The Keeper reviews the nomination and
determines within 45 days if the historic site will or will not be listed.
Remember, if you are nominating a historic site and you are not the
property owner, it is always a good idea to communicate your preservation
interests to the owner, as well as how those interests can benefit them in a
variety of ways. Establishing pleasant relationships with owners of historic
sites earlier on can make the designation process smoother later.
How to Apply for Local Designation
At the local level, it is imperative to first review the historic preservation
ordinance in the area. It will explain the community’s unique criteria for a
property to be designated as historic, as well as the review process.
Because each ordinance is site-specific, it’s difficult to summarize a “one
size fits all” process. Generally, you initiate an application for historic
designations, and then prepare a well-researched argument for the local
preservation commission to review at a public hearing, where they will give
their recommendations and/or approval for designations.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America’s
historic places. Preservation Tips & Tools helps others do the same
in their own communities.
For more information, visit blog.preservationnation.org.
Photos courtesy: Emily Farah, Essential Public
Radio; Slick-o-Bot, Wikimedia Commons; Adam
Fagen, Flickr; NPS Cultural Landscape Program,
Flickr; Don Shall, Flickr; Ed!, Wikimedia
Commons; Jonathunder, Wikimedia Commons;
Rauglothgor, Wikimedia Commons; Orange
County Archives, Flickr; Alan Levine, Flickr; U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers, Flickr.