The principle goal of historic preservation is to protect, for future generations, significant structures and sites that contribute to a shared cultural heritage. According to federal guidelines, a property is historically significant when it demonstrates an association to: broad patterns of history; the lives of significant people; the distinctive characteristics of an architectural building type or period; accomplishments of high artistic value; or something that has yielded or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.
The first step towards protecting and maintaining historic structures and sites is to formally recognize their historic value. The following are ways to designate and protect these resources.
Local Designation [LD]
Local designation protects a building against incompatible alterations or demolition. In order to have a structure locally designated, the municipality in which the structure is located, either an incorporated village, city or town in New York State, must have a local landmark ordinance. The designation process varies from place to place, but generally requires a review of the historical information which an interested party or in some cases the municipality provides, and the holding of a public hearing. Local designation generally means that there will be architectural controls and a review process dictating the alteration of a historic structure and sometimes its site. These architectural controls will not prohibit building or landscape changes and normally affect only alteration to exterior features, leaving homeowners to do as they wish at the interior. Typically the process of reviewing plans for alterations is carried out by a Landmark Commission although some Design Review and Planning Boards also serve this function. The purpose of the commission is to assure that changes will be compatible with the existing designated structure and that specific important features are not eradicated.
State and National Registers of Historic Places [NR]
Listing on the State and National Registers of Historic Places formally establishes the significance of an individual structure, a grouping of structures, landscape features, or any combination of the above. Its required research and statement of significance often makes a National Register listing the baseline reference for local designations. Register listing will not protect a historic property from any unsympathetic actions by the owner, but will ensure review by the State Historic Preservation Office should a Federal or State action be proposed such as a road widening in a historic district.
The same eligibility criteria are used for both the State and National Registers and all listings are initiated at the state level though a nomination process. In New York, the program is administered by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), a division of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The nomination process entails establishing a resource’s historic significance and a review by SHPO staff that includes a site visit. Once SHPO determines a nomination is sufficiently prepared, it is forwarded to the New York State Board for Historic Preservation for review and recommendation. If recommended, the application is forwarded to the State Historic Preservation Officer for signing and listing on the State Register of Historic Places, and is then sent to the National Park Service for consideration and listing on the National Register.
For more information on the State and National Registers visit:
Want a first-hand perspective on researching and writing a National Register nomination? Click here to read our Q&A with the owners of the Mollenhauer House in Bayshore, New York.
Certified Local Government Program [CLG]
The Certified Local Government Program (CLG) is a nation-wide program that supports local landmark preservation activities at the municipal level through special services including grants, legal and technical assistance, and training. Some examples of local preservation activities that are fundable under the CLG program are: comprehensive surveys of historic resources; research and documentation for National Register nomination, development of architectural guidelines to aid in administrating local landmark laws, and archaeological surveys.
A city, village, town or county in New York State can participate in the CLG program after the New York State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) certifies that the local government has passed appropriate preservation legislation and appointed a review commission that meets state and federal standards. The SHPO provides a model landmark ordinance that meets CLG standards, which can be used to adopt appropriate local regulations. A copy of this ordinance and other material relating to the CLG program can be obtained through SHPO at http://nysparks.com/shpo/certified-local-governments/
New York State Environmental Quality Review Act [SEQRA]
Local landmark designation remains the tool of choice for effective protection of historic buildings but it often cannot control what happens to the land surrounding these structures. New York State is fortunate to have implemented, under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), a process to address this issue by defining the environment as including not only natural resources, but cultural resources as well: cultural, architectural, historical and archaeological.
As a subsection of the New York State Environmental Conservation Law, SEQRA has become an intrinsic part of land use decision-making by local municipalities and other public agencies because a so-called “SEQRA review” must be undertaken for every action involving land development – even single building permits – should their issuance require discretionary judgment on the part of the issuer of the permit. The purpose of the review is to determine if the proposed action, whether developer initiated or initiated by the municipality or the agency itself, is likely to have a significant negative effect on the environment and if so, to require an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the purpose of developing alternatives. Although SEQRA accords all historic resources status under the law, it accords sites that are listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places special importance, classifying them Type I. A Type I action is an indication that the proposed action (e.g. subdivision or site plan application) is more likely to have a significant effect on the environment.
The law requires that impacts be mitigated to the greatest extent practicable. Toward this goal the municipality can order studies such as historic structures reports (HSR) and archaeological surveys, paid for by the developer, to provide information that the municipality needs to make its decision. SEQRA also enables the municipality to plan appropriately for the long term preservation of historic sites by requiring, for example, that the main structure as well as service buildings and significant site features such as a perimeter wall, period landscape, or water feature be contained on the same lot. If the developer is not willing to do this voluntarily as part of the proffered development plan, than he/she can be required to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement which allows the municipality to consider design alternatives which are more likely to result in preserving historic sites in meaningful settings which will confer long term value and thus their survival.