Community Dialogue and Public Support
Any successful preservation effort begins with dialogue at the local level. Concerned citizens come together with a common purpose to address a pressing issue, openly discuss possible modes of action and intervention, invite others to participate, and educate each other and themselves about the issues. The process of designating an LHD or LHP requires patience and communication. Ultimately, a proposed LHD or LHP must have substantial public support in order to be established.
Careful preliminary work will make sure that the goals and procedures of the potential LHD or LHP designation are accurately presented. Cultivating and maintaining civil and productive relationships is a responsibility that will carry through the entire process and beyond.
1. Determining Whether a Local Historic District or a Local Historic Property Designation Is Right for the Community
Carefully weighing the benefits of LHD or LHP designation and considering the various other preservation protections that are available, the community determines which designation would be most appropriate for specific historic resources.
Even before a Study Committee is appointed, community residents and leaders should consider the questions listed below. The responses will give direction to the conversation and help determine the appropriate course of action. Some local communities may even hold informal gatherings of property owners to gauge their sentiments about the threats to historic resources and the need for preservation.
a. What buildings and structures best define the character of the neighborhood or community?
b. Are historic resources at risk or threatened in any way?
c. Could an LHD or LHP designation help to address those threats?
d. Has the community completed an historic resources survey?
e. Are any properties currently listed on the State or National registers of historic places?
f. Is preservation part of a broader community vision?
g. How do property owners feel about the need for a preservation mechanism?
h. Is there wide support for the establishment of a local review commission?
i. Have historic preservation designations been proposed before in the community?
j. What is the reputation of any current HDC or HPC?
2. Finding Partners and Building Partnerships in the Process
In response to specific threats to the character and integrity of a neighborhood, concerned citizens may form an ad hoc advocacy group, a preservation committee, or a neighborhood association. The citizens’ committee or neighborhood group may initiate the discussion of historic preservation and may lead to an official LHD or LHP Study Committee appointed by the municipality. Often, members of the informal association will be appointed to the official Study Committee.
The Study Committee will need to reach beyond the knowledge and expertise of its own members in order to prepare for the process. Communicating early and often with other community members and leaders will not only add transparency and credibility to the process, but will help gauge local attitudes and forge productive working relationships. The Study Committee should work closely with:
Property owners and residents who would be directly affected by the LHD or LHP designation, including property owners in the proposed district and the members of any existing LHD or LHP Agencies and individuals who will be reviewing or voting on the report of Study Committee including property owners, the local legislative body, the chief elected official of the municipality, the local planning and zoning authority, and CCT Staff and professionals who will have a specific role in the designation process including the municipal clerk and the municipal corporate counsel Local experts with specific knowledge of local history including the local historical society, the municipal historian, churches, and community organizations Advocates and partners capable of assisting with public outreach, including neighborhoodorganizations, local preservation groups, local news media, CCT, and the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation (CTHP) Preservation leaders and organizations that might provide financial or technical assistance, including planning and preservation consultants, CTHP, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, CCT, and the National Park Service
3. Developing a Strategy and Sharing Responsibility
Residents and property owners who are interested in establishing an LHD or LHP designation may need assistance in identifying sources of financial or technical assistance, adopting efficient procedures, and developing a schedule for the process. Once appointed, the Study Committee should be prepared to delegate and share some of the responsibilities involved in the process, from coordinating meetings, applications, volunteers, and deadlines, to conducting research, interviews, and outreach.
a. Personal Contact
Personal contact is an effective way to share information. A simple phone call or face-to-face discussion can introduce property owners and residents to the important role they might play in the historic preservation process.
If the Study Committee encounters resistance from property owners, the Committee might choose to reconsider the boundaries and justification of the potential district. The boundaries of the proposed district can be altered at any time up to the submission of the Study Committee Report.
b. Meetings, Gatherings, Presentations
Public meetings and informal gatherings are a great way to meet property owners and residents, provide information, and hear their concerns. Meetings may take three forms:
i. Informal Gatherings
Gatherings such as cocktail parties, barbecues, or other casual get-togethers can provide a relaxed, informal setting in which residents and property owners can discuss the potential benefits of LHD or LHP designation. Such meetings provide a good opportunity to distribute handouts and provide information on the architecture and significance of the area and the benefits of historic district designation.
Informal gatherings may take place prior to the appointment of a Study Committee or they may be hosted by one or two of the Study Committee members (representing less than the quorum required for a formal meeting).
ii. Public Meetings
A Study Committee may hold a public information meeting, at which it can present the purpose, rationale, and procedures of historic district or historic property designation. A strong visual presentation is an effective way to focus attention on the historical development and architectural qualities that define the character of a community. Informal question-and-answer sessions may also be helpful to property owners.
A Study Committee’s regular meetings are public meetings, and their dates are posted by the Town. Anyone can attend a regular meeting.
A representative of CCT or the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation (CTHP) may be invited to help put local issues into a larger context. The Study Committee should be well informed by this point about the district or property, its history, the procedures for establishing a district or property, and the potential benefits for property owners.
iii. Public Hearing
The public hearing is the opportunity to make a compelling case for historic district or property designation and provides a forum for public discussion of the proposed designation.
The enabling statute requires that a Study Committee hold a public hearing between sixty-five and one hundred thirty days following the transmission of its report to CCT, the planning and zoning commission, or other body designated by law. Procedures for the public hearing are set forth in detail in the enabling statute, CGS, Section 7-147b(e).
c. Handouts, Web Sites, and Blogs
In addition to providing copies of their report to property owners and residents, the Study Committee may distribute question-and-answer sheets that address the common issues and concerns. Sample handouts and information sheets may be obtained from the web sites of CCT and CTHP.
A special web site or an existing online community forum is another effective way to provide information on the historic designation process. The online site might discuss the findings of the Study Committee, provide links to relevant articles and resources, display interactive maps and information, or invite questions and comments, all while reducing printing costs.
d. Media Coverage
Media coverage of the LHD or LHP process can reflect and influence local opinions. The Study Committee and its community partners should prepare media releases, bullet points, and contact information so that reporters will have access to timely and accurate information. Questions from reporters should be answered fully and thoughtfully by a designated representative of the Study Committee.
Enlisting the help of recognized leaders in the community can help to ensure that accurate information is circulating. Letters to the editor and even direct meetings with the editor can help focus the public discussion and build support for historic preservation designation.
In some instances, there may be confusion about the difference between local and National Register historic districts. This point should be clarified as often as necessary. Designating a member of the Study Committee to be in charge of writing and responding to letters, blog posts, and radio broadcasts may be an effective way to take charge of the issue.
e. Key Talking Points
Because historic preservation regulations vary from state to state and from community to community, there is often some initial confusion about the potential impact and benefits of LHD or LHP designation. There are several points that may require clarification and emphasis throughout the discussion process:
i. The LHD or LHP is an educational resource for the entire community. Historic buildings, sites, and structures from different periods offer multiple opportunities for learning about the community’s past.
ii. The LHD is a particular type of municipal historic preservation designation. It is not the same as the Historic Resource Inventory, the State Register of Historic Places, or the National Register of Historic Places, although the designations may overlap.
iii. Historic preservation designation is not the same as zoning. An LHD or an LHP designation will not have any effect on the ownership, use, or transfer of any property.
iv. Historic preservation designation does not mean an increase in property taxes. While the community may undertake periodic reappraisals and authorize new tax rates, the state statute does not single out properties in historic districts for higher valuation.
v. National studies demonstrate that property values tend to stabilize in LHDs where the risk of dramatic change in the neighborhood is reduced. While property values in a regulated historic district may increase or decrease in response to larger real estate trends, the changes are generally not sudden or dramatic.
vi. Historic districts and historic properties are legal means of giving local residentscontrol over the appearance of their own community in the future. An LHD or LHP designation can be effective in preventing demolition and preserving architectural character while still allowing growth and change.