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Guidance for Assessing Visual and Indirect Effects to Historic Landscapes

Background Information

Historic landscapes can be found across South Carolina in a variety of forms.  Landscapes can be formally designed, like the gardens at Middleton Place or can be vernacular places, such as rural farmsteads. Historic landscapes usually include both natural and cultural features, such as the Georgetown County Rice Culture Historic District that includes rivers and historic rice fields. Landscapes can also be associated with important events, such as battlefields, or with important persons who designed or used the landscape.

Landscapes can be individually listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, or can be contributing resources to listed or eligible historic districts, or be contributing resources to individual historic properties such as buildings, structures, or archaeological sites. Common characteristics of historic landscapes include:

Engineering: Applies where the landscape and its uses reflect the practical application of scientific principles to serve human needs, such as transportation usage. Landscapes can also reflect agricultural use or industrial use, such as the phosphate mining industry visible in the landscape along the Ashley River, the rice fields along the rivers in Georgetown County, or the Coker Experimental Farms outside of Hartsville.

Landscape architecture: Formal gardens, farmyards, parks, cemeteries, orchards, boundaries, walls/fences, scenic byways, etc. that are based on established design principles or conscious designs.

Cultural heritage: Religious beliefs, social customs, ethnic identities, trades, and skills associated with particular cultural groups. Cultural heritage can also reflect the way cultural groups use the natural features of the landscapes, such as a source for food or for religious beliefs.

Natural features: Rivers, lakes, trees, mountains, and other natural features can contribute to historic landscapes. Natural features can be used for transportation, in the case of rivers, or can be integral features of a cultural landscape, such as the reason for a settlement or a state park.

Archaeological: Many landscapes in South Carolina have associated archaeological resources. These resources may reflect prior land uses, or may contribute to the development and character of the historic landscape itself. Archaeological sites may have above-ground components, such as ruins or earthworks, which are considered to be integral parts of the landscape.


As development occurs across South Carolina, more growth is occurring in and near historic landscapes. The following guidelines are provided by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to answer questions about assessing visual or indirect effects to landscapes and ways to avoid adverse visual or indirect effects to historic landscapes.

Avoiding Adverse Effects

Residential and Commercial Development: All new development within, adjacent to, or across from a historic landscape should incorporate opaque vegetative buffers to maintain the historic character of the surrounding landscape. The SHPO recommends a minimum buffer of at least 50 feet. A larger vegetative buffer may be needed to avoid adverse effects based on the development and the significance of the historic landscape. 

An opaque vegetative buffer is intended to: avoid diminishing the aesthetic qualities of and scenic views to or from historic sites; minimize adverse visual impacts to historic sites; and preserve the historical or cultural values for which the property is listed or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Opaque vegetative buffers shall be adequate for this stated purpose and shall totally block the view from the historic property to the new construction. To achieve adequate opaque vegetative buffers, the plantings should be evergreen, with greater density in the lower part of the buffer, up to 20 feet. Full growth of the opaque vegetative buffers shall be accomplished within four (4) growing seasons. Existing growth may be considered an opaque visual buffer when it meets the criteria set forth above; if not, then existing growth must be supplemented to achieve the criteria. 

The buffer must be indicated on all submitted plats as well as included in deed restrictions or other legal means of ensuring compliance and maintenance. Copies of the recorded deed restrictions should be provided to the SHPO. Selective vistas equivalent to one-third of the property width may be cleared in the buffer in consultation with the SHPO.

All new buildings should be lower in height than the existing tree line and should be set back at least 50 feet from the edge of the tree line.

Docks: New docks should be of a low profile with minimal visual impacts on the landscape. Community docks and marinas with large numbers of boat slips and traffic will likely cause an adverse visual effect on the landscape as well as an adverse cumulative effect due to increases in boat traffic and noise in the dock area.

Community docks and marinas should be located in previously developed areas, near bridges, or near non-historic features in a landscape area to lessen adverse effects of the dock or marina on the historic landscape.

To avoid an adverse effect, individual docks should be limited in size, with a pierhead no larger than 100 square feet and with a single floating dock no larger than 128 square feet. Pier height should be as low as permitted by law. No roofs, handrails, or second story decks should be part of the dock’s design. Docks should be constructed of wood and should remain unpainted.

Required Documentation

The SHPO needs the following documentation to comment on potential adverse effects to historic landscapes:

  • Detailed narrative description of project
  • Aerial photographs of project area. Provide two photographs: one at an altitude of 2,500 feet, one at an altitude of 12,500  feet
  • Photographs keyed to a map:
  • Variety of views from historic landscape to project area
  • Variety of views from project area to historic landscape
  • Views from adjacent historic properties to project area
  • Views from project area to adjacent historic properties
  • Views of non-historic features in the viewshed
  • Conceptual or final site plan for project
  • Elevations, including dimensions, of any proposed docks, piers, or marinas
  • Description of vegetative buffers on the project area to protect  historic landscape - Note: the SHPO recommends a minimum buffer of  
    at least 50 feet
  • Description and explanation of non-historic features in the viewshed of the project area
  • Names and addresses of adjacent owners of properties listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, including owners of historic landscapes
  • Note: Based on the project, some type of visual simulation may be requested.