More often than not, protecting the places that matter in our cities and towns starts with local preservation ordinances. While they vary from place to place (after all, the best ordinance is one that is tailor made to meet the unique needs of a community), these land-use laws set forth rules and regulations for the designation of - and any subsequent alterations to - a community's historic properties.

But what happens when these effective lines of defense become threatened just like the irreplaceable resources they are designed to preserve?

Unfortunately, this is a question that is currently front and center for preservationists in Montgomery County, Maryland, where an entire local preservation program is under intense scrutiny following the introduction of amendments that would significantly alter an ordinance with proven effectiveness.

Announced last February, these amendments would establish an elevated threshold for designation should a property owner object to a nomination, effectively preventing the designation of new resources and potentially cracking the door for future efforts to de-designate already protected properties. They would also delegate final decision-making authority to the county’s Planning Board, which would enable it to disregard the informed recommendations of the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission.

Last night, a well-attended public hearing was held before the Montgomery County Council, and as you can imagine, some extremely lively debate ensued. During the meeting, concerned citizens and national, state and local organizations – including the Maryland Historical Trust, Preservation Maryland, Inc., Montgomery Preservation, Inc., and the National Trust for Historic Preservation – rallied together in a strong showing of opposition to the proposed amendments. While all agreed that the current law could be improved, many questioned the legality and wisdom behind the proposed legislation.

More specifically, the legal staff of the National Trust for Historic Preservation prepared a memorandum in advance of the hearing that questions the county’s authority to adopt the proposed amendments under state law. At the hearing itself, Robert Nieweg, director and regional attorney of our Southern Field Office, delivered the following testimony:

The National Trust for Historic Preservation does not support the proposed amendments to Montgomery County’s historic preservation ordinance.

We respectfully encourage the County Council to table the proposed amendment and, instead, consider initiating a comprehensive examination of the county’s historic preservation program.

The National Trust believes that the amendment under consideration by the County Council would fundamentally alter the preservation program in ways which raise serious legal and public policy issues.

First, the proposed amendment would change key elements of the county’s current designation structure in a manner that would, to a large degree, leave final historic designation authority in the hands of the Planning Board, rather than the Council itself.

In fact, the proposed amendments would enable the Planning Board to disregard recommendations by the Historic Preservation Commission for reasons unrelated to the merits of the property.

Such a delegation of authority raises serious legal concerns.

- The proposed amendment would preclude County Council review of a Planning Board decision to deny historic designation. This change appears to conflict with the requirement of the Regional District Act that master plan amendments be made at the direction of the Council, rather than the Planning Board.

- The proposed transfer to the Planning Board of final decision-making authority for certain designation decisions would effectively delegate the Council’s authority to an administrative body that does not have detailed subject-matter expertise in historic preservation. This delegation of authority would be vulnerable to legal challenge.

Second, the proposed amendment would introduce special standards and procedures whenever a property owner declines to consent to designation.

- The Regional District Act requires that the criteria for designation of historic properties be “not inconsistent” with the criteria used by the Maryland Historic Trust to identify properties for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. These criteria focus specifically on the merits and significance of the property and do not consider the personal views of the property owner.

- The proposed requirement for a supermajority vote of the Planning Board in the absence of owner consent appears to conflict with the Regional District Act, which states that the Historic Preservation Master Plan is to be amended by three affirmative votes of the Planning Board.

- Adoption of the proposed owner-consent provision would jeopardize Montgomery County’s eligibility for Maryland state preservation funds, which the county has used to help support a wide range of projects such as research, community planning, training and public education.

Given the serious concerns raised by the proposed amendment before you tonight, the National Trust respectfully recommends that the County Council should initiate a comprehensive review of the county’s historic preservation program to fully explore the program’s challenges and a range of solutions with the goal of enhancing and strengthening the highly regarded program.

Thank you for considering the views of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

At the close of the hearing, the County Council announced that the record on the proposed amendment will remain open until May 22, at which time it would be taken up by the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee. Information on the bill and contact information for submitting written testimony is available on the Council’s website.

Please stay tuned to PreservationNation.org as we continue to monitor this situation.

- Julia Miller

Julia Miller serves as special counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

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Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

Fires on Montana Main Streets

Posted on: April 1st, 2009 by Guest Writer 1 Comment

 

Bozeman, Montana (Credit: Michael Becker)

On Thursday, March 5, a massive natural gas explosion rocked the 200 block of East Main Street, in the heart of Bozeman’s historic district. The blast completely destroyed five buildings, and most tragically, one woman was killed. Windows were blown out of buildings in the surrounding blocks, and only the intense and efficient work of the first responders kept the fire from spreading to adjacent properties.

Whitehall, Montana (Credit : Justin Post)

The next day, another devastating fire ripped through four Main Street businesses in the small town of Whitehall, sixty miles west of Bozeman. Fortunately, no one was injured, but the brick and wood-frame buildings were gutted. Only the masonry exterior walls remain standing, which hopefully can be saved.

As these two communities rallied and began to clean up from the devastation, a third fire erupted. On Monday March 23, a fire began in the basement of a historic building undergoing rehabilitation in the 700 block of Main Street in Miles City. The fire rushed through the walls and to the roof, where high winds fanned the flames. Soon the adjacent buildings were aflame, and in the end, nine businesses, nearly the entire block, were destroyed. Happily, like in Whitehall, no one was injured.

Miles City, Montana (Credit : Kathy Doeden)

Now that the smoke has cleared, each of these towns faces the daunting task of recovery. A dialogue between those connected to the properties continues. Many of the owners are committed to rebuilding, and sensitivity to the historic architecture along each of these Main Streets is at the forefront of these discussions. Fortunately, Bozeman and Miles City have active local preservation programs.

The National Trust and Montana Preservation Alliance have been in close conversation with city officials, Chambers of Commerce, life safety officers, structural engineers, architects, insurance companies, and property owners to offer assistance and to help craft a plan for recovery in each of these towns. As the Partners in the Field representative, I will remain actively engaged with each community to aid with stabilization and planning efforts and will continue to offer technical and, where possible, financial support.

-Kate Hampton, Most Endangered Places Program Director, Montana Preservation Alliance

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

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Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

 

In a ceremony held yesterday in the East Room of the White House, President Barack Obama officially signed the Public Lands Management Act of 2009.

Among the many important wins for preservation included in the final legislation's 1,300 pages and 160 provisions is the National Landscape Conservation System Act. Two and a half years in the making, this bill creates the first major system of U.S. public lands in nearly half a century. Named the National Landscape Conservation System, it is comprised of the best lands, waterways and cultural resources managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

"Attending the bill signing for the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 was the fulfillment of a dream that began in 2000 to create the Bureau of Land Management’s National Landscape Conservation System," National Trust for Historic Preservation Public Lands Policy Program Manager Denise Ryan said. "It is hard to describe my joy and relief at finally passing the bill after several years of hard work. Sitting in the beautiful and historic East Room of the White House while President Obama signed the bill, surrounded by the bill’s congressional champions, was marvelous."

For special coverage of the big day, check out the photos taken by Denise above, as well as the following excerpts from the inspiring remarks made during the signing ceremony.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's Remarks

Over the last two centuries, America’s best ideas for protecting our vast lands and open spaces have often arrived while our country has faced its greatest trials.

It was in the midst of our nation’s bloodiest conflict – the Civil War – that President Abraham Lincoln set aside the lands that are now Yosemite National Park.

It was at the dawn of the 20th century, with our cities and industries growing and our open lands and watersheds disappearing, that President Teddy Roosevelt expanded our national parks and set aside the world’s largest system of lands dedicated to wildlife conservation, the national wildlife refuge system.

And it was in the darkest days of the Great Depression that President Franklin Roosevelt put three million young Americans to work in the Civilian Conservation Corps. They built the trails, campgrounds, parks and conservation projects we enjoy today.

In these moments when our national character is most tested we rightly seek to protect that which fuels our spirit. 

For America’s national character - our optimism, our dreams, our shared stories – are rooted in our landscapes.

We each have places we love. For me, it is the San Luis Valley in Colorado. It is the lands my family has farmed for five generations. The waters of the San Antonio River. The snows on the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

As Americans, we are defined most by our people and our places. 

>> Read Full Text

 
President Barack Obama's Remarks

As Americans, we possess few blessings greater than the vast and varied landscapes that stretch the breadth of our continent. Our lands have always provided great bounty – food and shelter for the first Americans, for settlers and pioneers; the raw materials that grew our industry; the energy that powers our economy.

What these gifts require in return is our wise and responsible stewardship. As our greatest conservationist President, Teddy Roosevelt, put it almost a century ago, "I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us."

That's the spirit behind the bipartisan legislation I'm signing today – legislation among the most important in decades to protect, preserve and pass down our nation’s most treasured landscapes to future generations.

>> Read Full Text

Visit PreservationNation.org to learn more about what the Public Lands Management Act of 2009 means for historic preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Jason Clement

Jason Clement

Jason Lloyd Clement is the director of community outreach at the National Trust, which is really just a fancy way of saying he’s a professional place lover. For him, any day that involves a bike, a camera, and a gritty historic neighborhood is basically the best day ever.

Notes from the Field: New Orleans

Posted on: March 31st, 2009 by Walter Gallas

 


Press Conference 3/25 from Eli Ackerman on Vimeo.
New Orleans is undertaking a $2 million reworking of its master plan and comprehensive zoning ordinance. Led by the Boston-based firm Goody Clancy, the process has now reached the stage at which a draft of the master plan will face the scrutiny of citizens in a series of neighborhood district meetings throughout April. Last Saturday, neighborhood leaders attended somewhat of a preview of the plan, at which very broad concepts or principles were discussed, but clearly many people were chomping at the bit to get down to details.

Jack Davis, a New Orleans resident and member of the National Trust’s board of trustees, fired one of the first questions to Goody Clancy’s David Dixon: Where was the huge LSU/VA hospital plan in the document? It seemed to be missing.

Dixon acknowledged that his firm had not been asked to do a plan for the medical district, yet he insisted that the city needed to involve neighborhoods, needed to look at the impacts of the hospitals on the downtown, needed to be involved in the designs of the hospitals—and that plans for the medical district needed to be in the master plan. Here we had probably the largest economic-development project ever proposed in the city, and the city’s planning consultant was trying mightily to show he knew his client needed to get involved—but the planning department was doing everything it could to distance itself from it.

Following on that, we were able to announce on Wednesday that 41 community, professional, planning and grassroots organizations—local and national—endorsed the call for the hospital plans to be included in the master planning process and for public hearings to be held before the City Planning Commission and City Council. The American Planning Association (APA) was one of our supporting organizations. APA’s executive director, Paul Farmer, said in a written statement: “Planning requires that processes be fair and inclusive, that alternatives be fairly and completely evaluated and that decisions of this magnitude be included in any community plan, whether it is at the neighborhood or city scale.”

Charity Hospital figured in this public statement as well. We called on Governor Jindal to order a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of the competing LSU hospital plans. LSU proposes to base its plans upon total new construction requiring land acquisition and demolition of property. An alternative plan, based on the findings of RMJM Hillier, concludes that a 21st century hospital can be built within the gutted shell of Charity Hospital. We want the Governor to order a cost-benefit analysis which looks not only at those construction costs, but also measures the impact of these different plans upon timelines for job creation, related economic development, and health care delivery.

Speakers at Wednesday’s event included Jack Davis, who served as host and moderator; Dr. Tlaloc Alferez, M.D.; Dr. Sissy Sartor, M.D.; LaToya Cantrell, president of the Broadmoor Improvement Association; and Charles E. Allen, III, president of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association.


Press Conference 3/25 from Eli Ackerman on Vimeo.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

 

Watch it live!

Visit www.whitehouse.gov/live to watch a live stream of President Obama as he signs the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009 into law.

Last Wednesday, a piece of legislation - which President Obama will sign into law in approximately one hour - was enacted called the Public Lands Management Act.

Why should you care? Clocking in at 1,300 pages and over 160 provisions, this is the largest conservation measure passed in over a decade, and it will protect innumerable areas that are rich in cultural and historic resources. Among those provisions is the National Landscape Conservation System Act. Introduced two and a half years ago, this bill congressionally establishes the Bureau of Land Management’s conservation system, which is comprised of 26 million acres of land in 14 states. It’s at these special places where one can truly experience the wild beauty of the American West.

In general, a lands bill of this size and scope takes about six years to pass through the ever-complicated process known as the United States Congress. To say we were ecstatic to get this one done in two and a half is the understatement of the century.

Now, unless you are a huge fan of the game of ping pong, the process to get something like this done may not be your cup of tea. The National Landscape Conservation System Act had a relatively typical start, with hearings and mark-ups in the appropriate committees of both chambers of Congress. It passed a stand-alone vote on the House side (see below for some fun tid bits about that adventure), and enjoyed wide support in the Senate. Then, it was packaged along with 159 other bills, and the game of ping pong (or hot potato, depending on how you look at it) officially began.

The legislation bounced back and forth between the House and the Senate at least six times. After a few rounds of this, my colleagues and I started feeling like Charlie Brown lining up to kick the football that Lucy would inevitably pull away. (How’s that for imagery?) However, with community support and the incredible leadership of our congressional champions, we made it through and got the field goal after all.

Looking back over the past three years, I will remember a lot about this campaign, but for now, here’s my top-five list:

5) The very start of the whole process when I was trying to convince colleagues that referring to the system as the “NLCS” was not going to help matters. See, I generally hate acronyms and I am not the biggest fan of baseball. However, if people insisted on wanting to discuss the National League Championship Series, I had to go with it, complete with a one-page fact sheet that was available upon request.

4) Working with National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe, a true mentor to me and a stalwart leader on this issue. Sitting behind him twice as he testified before both the House and the Senate committees was an amazing thing to witness.

3) Getting a stand-alone vote in the House of Representatives and then getting a terrible rule that allowed for six amendments to the bill, meaning seven votes for our team in one day. These amendments ranged from never funding anything that had to do with the System to exempting the entire state of Utah from it.

2) The real fun happened on a vote called a motion to recommit, which is generally the last chance the opposition has to kill a bill. In our case, it was on the right to bear arms in the System - a right that already exists, but a vote that can quickly divide Congress. After “lobbying off the floor” with our incredible team (this basically involves stakeouts to approach members on their way to vote), there was nothing left to do but head over to the Hawk and Dove (a Capitol Hill bar/institution) to watch the final vote come in. We won that day by only four votes, but the excitement and camaraderie was worth it.

1) Of course, the best memory of all is the final passage. After again “lobbying off the floor,” we were invited to House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn’s office in the Capitol. There, with all 30 of my colleagues assembled in an anteroom, we watched as the final passage vote succeed 285-140.

So, here we are with America’s newest conservation system, formally established with the force of law and the recognition of Congress. With this under our belt, we must now focus on ensuring that it is well managed, well funded and inclusive of the places rich in cultural and historic resources.

Let the games begin.

- Chris Soderstrom

Chris Soderstrom is a senior policy advisor at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This afternoon at 3:00 PM EST, she'll be at the White House to watch President Obama sign the Public Lands Management Act of 2009 into law. Join her by catching a live stream at www.whitehouse.gov/live. Also, stay tuned as we post our own pictures from the signing ceremony.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.