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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
Deciphering Preservation Jargon: Local and National Historic Districts
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By Rolla Preservation Alliance
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By Ryan Reed

Making a case for preservation opens a lexiconic can of worms that can be overwhelming and difficult to understand.  Historic district, contributing resource, state and federal tax credits, preservation review can easily confuse and scare anyone not familiar with the language.  Broken into manageable pieces, the different facets of the laws that can assist or hinder preservation efforts are pretty simple.


Phelps County Courthouse.  Listed in the National Register in 1993
The National Historic Preservation Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on October 15, 1966.  This act established a national policy regarding preservation and created several institutions including the National Register of Historic Places.  The register is an official list of districts, buildings, sites, structures and objects worthy of preservation with significance to our culture, architecture and history.   For inclusion on the National Register, a property’s physical appearance and significance must be evaluated through a nomination process.  To be in the National Register, the nominated property must meet at least one of four criterions.  This criterion includes an association with a significant person or event in American history, significance in design and construction and/or potential information that could be garnered through archaeology.  Concerning the physical integrity of the building, if several historic elements of a building (i.e. windows and wall cladding) have been removed or heavily altered; the building may not make it past the nomination process.  If your property has not been heavily altered, is significant through one or more criterion and is over 50 years old, it has the potential to be listed on the National Register.


Many questions from property owners can arise when their home or business could potentially be listed in the National Register.  Will the government tell me what color I have to paint my house?  Do I have to make my house look like it did in 1885?  Will my house be open to the public?  The short answer to all of the above is no.  On its own, the National Register has little impact on private property owners.  For starters, individual properties cannot be nominated without the owner’s consent.  Historic districts cannot be listed without the permission of a majority of property owners within the district’s boundary.  The federal government does not implement any design guidelines for your home if it is individually listed or within a historic district.  Also, listing in the National Register does not protect sites from demolition or alteration.  The only restriction that comes with listing is a review of projects using federal funds that could negatively impact the site or district.  Known as a Section 106, this is one of the many institutions created when the National Historic Preservation Act was signed into law.  The project potentially affecting the property is reviewed by federal and state agencies.  These agencies work to mitigate the effects of the project which could include blocking demolition or moving the affected property.


1435 Salisbury in North St. Louis. Located in the Hyde Park Historic District, owners were able to utilize state and federal tax credits for a rehab.
When individuals discuss how they can’t replace their windows or tear down their garage, they are referring to local historic districts.  Unlike national historic districts, a local historic district is a bottom up operation involving rules and regulation created by neighborhood residents.  In comparison, homeowners in a national historic district are not bound by any commitment as to how their property will look or by any rules that govern future repairs of their home.  Local historic districts require a tremendous amount of community support.  Typically, residents in a neighborhood will create and consent to a set of design guidelines.  These design guidelines typically govern new construction and relate to all exterior features including windows, rooflines, paint colors, etc.  Therefore, the people of the neighborhood, not the government, create and agree to follow a set of local regulations.


There are several advantages to being in a local or national historic district.  Many property owners seek National Register designation, because it allows access to state and federal historic tax credits.  If your building is a contributing resource in a district, meaning the building adds to the historic integrity of the district, it is eligible for tax credits.  Luckily, the State of Missouri has a state tax credit that can be used in combination with the federal tax credit.  Combined, the credits could potentially offset rehabilitation costs by 45%.  The State Historic Preservation Office, created by the National Preservation Act to monitor preservation activities at the state level, reviews and approves rehabilitation work for state tax credits.  Federal tax credits are limited to income-producing, depreciable property.  This would include commercial or residential rental property.  A personal residence would not qualify for the federal credit.  The state credit also applies to income-producing property.  Additionally, a personal residence can qualify for the state tax credit.


Since the inception of the federal tax credit in 1976 and the state tax credit in 1998, both incentives have encouraged economic growth in urban cores, residential neighborhoods and small towns across Missouri.  Tax credit projects in Springfield, Missouri during 2011 created $130 million in private investment for the community.  Over 74 communities across the state have benefited from the incentives.  Overwhelmingly, 73% of the total communities who have used tax credits were situated in rural areas in the state.  In the last 14 years, the Missouri Historic Tax Credit Program has created over 40,000 jobs in the state.  During the fiscal year 2011, $116,244,410.00 in tax credits were issued statewide!


Currently, Rolla only has four individual properties listed in the National Register  and zero historic districts.  If you believe Rolla should establish historic districts and benefit economically like the 74 other communities across the state from historic tax credits, contact your local council person.  Contact information for each council person can be found at the bottom of the post concerning Rayl Cafeteria.

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