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Setting up a Preservation Program

Seneca historic district signs
Signs of support for Seneca's local historic district

The decisions and actions of local governments and individuals often decide the fate of the irreplaceable historic and prehistoric properties that give South Carolina communities their special character and make them better places to live and visit. Effective local government preservation programs have several closely linked components:

  • a survey of historic and prehistoric resources,
  • a historic preservation zoning ordinance,
  • public education, and
  • preservation planning

While the most successful programs include all of these, engaging in any one of the activities is beneficial and a positive first step for a community. Through technical assistance, the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) helps communities build successful preservation programs to protect historic buildings, structures, and archaeological sites.

Local governments that develop effective preservation programs may apply to become Certified Local Governments (CLGs) and enter into a partnership with the SHPO and the National Park Service.

Another source of information for local preservation programs is the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions -- America's membership organization for persons and organizations seeking to promote the activities of preservation commissions.

Surveys Of Historic and Prehistoric Resources

Surveys help local governments and preservation groups identify and evaluate historic properties. This information helps communities plan how to protect and benefit from historic and cultural resources. A survey:

  • Identifies historic buildings, structures, and landscapes (surveys of archaeological sites may also be conducted)
  • Records physical characteristics and locations on maps
  • Evaluates significance in local and South Carolina history and determines if properties or areas are eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

Certified Local Governments (CLGs) may apply for matching grants from the SHPO to conduct surveys. The SHPO also helps plan and administer surveys. Completed survey records are kept by the local government and the SHPO for future research and planning needs, including GIS systems (Geographic Information System).

Historic Preservation Overlay Zoning Ordinance

South Carolina state law allows communities to pass zoning ordinances to protect historic and architecturally valuable districts and neighborhoods by restricting or placing conditions on exterior alterations, additions, demolitions, or relocations of structures in those areas. See the South Carolina enabling legislation for Boards of Architectural Review (BARs) Section 6-29-870 of the SC Code of Laws 1976, as amended.

Charleston adopted the first preservation zoning ordinance in the country in 1931. Now 2,300 U.S. communities (over 35 in South Carolina) have adopted preservation ordinances. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld their constitutionality in the Penn Central Transportation Co. v. City of New York (1978) case.

Studies across the nation and in South Carolina have shown that having local preservation overlay zoning in place not only protects the historic properties, it protects the value of those properties. Thus owners of historic buildings in these protected districts see the value of their investments increase.

A preservation ordinance protects historic properties by officially recognizing historic areas, buildings and sites as local historic districts and landmarks. Owners of these locally designated properties get approval from a locally appointed board for exterior changes, additions, new construction, relocation or demolition, so that changes complement the historic appearance of the building and its surroundings. This approval process is called design review. The presence of a preservation ordinance does not prevent change, rather it encourages appropriate alterations and new construction that fits in with existing buildings.

The SHPO has a sample preservation ordinance and staff will review drafts. The SHPO offers training for members and staff of BARs and responds to special information requests. CLGs may apply for grants to create or update design guidelines, which give property owners and BARs guidance on alterations and new designs that are appropriate for the local historic properties and districts.

Public Education

Support for protecting a community's historic resources can be built through programs and publications that:

  • Raise awareness of historic buildings in the community
  • Explain the design review process
  • Help owners with appropriate designs
  • Educate owners about historic building maintenance
  • Explain the economic benefits of historic preservation

CLGs may apply for matching SHPO grants for educational projects. Examples include: walking/driving tour brochures and audiotapes, National Register nominations, public programs (workshops, slide shows, videos or conferences), and publications on historic buildings, the design review process, maintenance, etc.

Preservation Planning

With preservation planning communities integrate preservation into other plans and policies, such as transportation, subdivision regulations, housing and economic development. The development or update of a comprehensive plan is a great opportunity to consider the future of a community’s historic resources. In fact a comprehensive plan, according to the Comprehensive Planning Act of 1994, should contain "a cultural resources element which considers historic buildings and structures, commercial districts, residential districts, unique, natural or scenic resources, archaeological, and other cultural resources."

Created with citizen input, a preservation plan:

  • Reviews the current conditions of historic resources
  • Describes the desired future for these resources
  • Outlines action steps

Information on preparing preservation plans is available from the SHPO. CLGs may apply for a SHPO grant to develop a preservation plan.