Historic district is working to protect Carson City's past

Carson City created its local historic district more than a quarter century ago. Most people realize this action of the Board of Supervisors had to do with an effort to preserve the city's historic and architecturally significant structures, but why something so formal? Why not just place noteworthy historic buildings on the National Register of Historic Places?

The inclusion of a building on the National Register is, of course, a great honor. But experience has shown it is often of little help in protecting these structures. That's because, as the National Register of Historic Places itself notes, "Under federal law, owners of private property listed in the National Register are free to maintain, manage, or dispose of their property as they choose, provided that there is no Federal involvement" [such as the use of Federal grants for preservation work]. Is a local historic district a better strategy?

Local historic districts began in the city of Charleston, S.C. In 1931 Charleston passed an ordinance creating an "old and historic district" for an area of their city that included more than 3,000 historic structures dating back as far as 1670. A local Board of Architectural Review was formed to administer the district and, by ordinance, "no changes could be made to exterior architectural features that were subject to view from a public street or way." This local historic district approach proved immensely successful.

There are now well in excess of 2,300 local historic districts nationwide. That's because the strongest strategy for preserving historic neighborhoods has repeatedly been shown to begin with the formation of a local historic district. The success of the strategy lies in its local focus. The control of the review process is run by local professionals and residents and is always done through an interactive, public forum. In addition, the relevant guidelines and regulations are created locally to serve specific community needs and address specific local concerns.

The Carson City historic district was formed in 1982. While it is located primarily in the initial blocks west of Carson Street (between John Street on the north and Fifth Street on the south), it also includes other important structures and areas throughout the city. The Historic Resources Commission (HRC) is a seven-member board appointed by the Board of Supervisors to review proposed development within the district, including the remodeling and expansion of historic structures, the design of new buildings, as well as other visible changes impacting historic structures such as fencing. The Commission is made up of building, design, and preservation professionals as well as a resident of the historic district and has the power to approve or deny projects within the district.

Since 1987 Carson City has also been a Certified Local Government as part of a federally established program to, among other things, encourage the integration of local preservation interests into local planning and decision-making processes.

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