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Outline of a Local Preservation Ordinance

This February, the Village of Maywood, which boasts 16 National Register listings, convened its first preservation commission. In July, it passed an ordinance that outlines the village's criteria for landmark status and defines the commission's role in enforcing and facilitating that distinction. Unlike the largely symbolic distinction of the National Register (Section 106 not withstanding), local preservation ordinances impose clear legal restrictions on landmark properties. This belies a common perception that National Register listings are more protected (or restricted) than local landmarks.

Maywood's ordinance (Ord, C0-08-29) is largely representative of municipal preservation law in the region, and can be broken down into four general parts:

  1. The Commission: In Maywood, the preservation commission comprises five commissioners. Commission size and expertise varies between municipalities, but responsibilities are mostly uniform.
    1. First, the commission is charged with identifying historically significant properties, either through a formal survey or through the nominations of citizens, preservationists or city officials. Once nominated, the commission decides whether the property will be recommended for official landmark status to the village board. Once landmarked, the group ensures that the historic property's distinction is visibly recognized through plaques, awards, etc.
    2. Second, the commission reviews development plans that threaten to alter or demolish an official city landmark. In most cases, the commission's approval (usually manifested in a certificate of appropriateness) is necessary to proceed with such a project.
    3. Third, the commission educates residents about the value of preservation generally and individual landmarks specifically. This information is often shared in newsletters, workshops, exhibitions, and through research assistance to constituents. For example, Maywood offers a brief tutorial to residents interested in researching the history of their homes.
    4. Fourth, the commission ensures that the local zoning code and other land-use decisions account for historic properties in the area, and provide for their protection or reuse. The commission also testifies before any other city board or commission whose activities include a historic landmark or other preservation issue.
  2. The Landmark Designation Process: Like with preservation commissions, specifics of the designation process can vary from city to city, but they generally follow a procedure similar to Maywood's.
    1. First, a nomination application is submitted. The preservation commission reviews the submission to determine if the nominated property meets the eligibility requirements (workmanship, design, materials, setting, etc.) to be considered further.
    2. Second, nominations that are approved for further consideration must be presented to the public (in Maywood's case, within 60 days) for review and comment. In Maywood, this public meeting must be publicized through the local newspaper and through mailings to nearby property owners. The public notice must identify the property and state why it merits landmark status. In the meeting, the commission balances the "information, testimony, evidence and other materials presented" to determine whether it will recommend official landmark status for the nominated property to the village board. The village board ultimately confers landmark designation.
    3. Third, any nomination that is approved by the village board becomes an official village landmark and requires a certificate of appropriateness (COA) from the preservation commission whenever a development project is proposed on the site. In Maywood, if a nomination is refused by the board, the petitioner(s) must wait 90 days to apply again to the preservation commission. Throughout the Maywood nomination process – from the day the application is submitted to the village board's final vote – the nominated site receives the same protection that is provided an official city landmark.
  3. The Landmark Criteria: Maywood's criteria for historic significance is not unlike most other municipalities. The following are taken directly from the village ordinance:
    1. Significant value as part of the historic, heritage or cultural characteristics of the village, county, state, or nation;
    2. Its identification with a person or persons who significantly contributed to the development of the village, county, state or nation;
    3. Its identification with a particular movement or event of historic, heritage or cultural significance to the village, county, state or nation, or with a person or persons who significantly contributed to such a movement or event;
    4. Representative of the distinguishing characteristics of architecture inherently valuable for the study of a period, type, method of construction or use of indigenous materials;
    5. Notable work of a master builder, designer, architect, engineer, craftsman or artist whose individual work has influenced the development of the village, county, state or nation;
    6. Its unique location or singular physical characteristics make it an established or familiar visual feature;
    7. Its character as a particularly fine or unique example of a utilitarian structure, including but not limited to farmhouses, gas stations, or other commercial structures, with a high level of integrity or architectural significance;
    8. Area that has yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important to history or prehistory.
  4. The Certificate of Appropriateness: A certificate of appropriateness (COA) is required anytime the owner of a landmark proposes an action that could threaten the historic/architectural integrity of the site. Such actions can include additions, alterations, demolitions, maintenance, rehabilitations, relocations, renovations, or repairs. COA applications are reviewed by the preservation commission, which determines whether the certificate – and by extension, the necessary permit(s) – is granted. In Maywood, landmark owners are exempted from the COA process "if failure to grant the permit will cause imminent threat to life, health or property." Not every municipality with a preservation ordinance requires a COA process, however, most compel a similar review when a historic site is threatened.
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