Government

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The Government Preservation Toolbox is for elected or appointed officials or those who work in government and is intended to be an essential point of reference for making leadership decisions, educating the public, and finding programs that benefit communities. Each TOOL below includes a brief overview with links to more detailed information from the most qualified sources identified to date. Each tool includes STRATEGIES, examples of best practices and proven solutions, along with potential PARTNERS for collaboration.


Tool ♦ National Register Districts

Use this to identify and honor community heritage assets and to help commercial or mixed-use property owners become eligible for potential rehabilitation tax credits. 

Just like an individual property, an entire neighborhood (or “district”) can be listed in the National Register of Historic Places, a federal program administered by the National Park Service in partnership with state governments. The National Register was created by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 to recognize and protect properties of historic and cultural significance that warrant consideration in federal undertakings such as highway construction and urban renewal projects as well as to provide incentives for local and private preservation initiatives. In Tennessee, the program is administered by the Tennessee Historical Commission (THC), a division of the Department of Environment and Conservation. Nomination of a district to the National Register is prepared and reviewed at the local and state levels, but the final decision to list a district in the National Register is made by the National Park Service. A National Register district designation is primarily an honor and means that a majority of properties within a designated area have been researched and evaluated according to established procedures and determined to be worthy of preservation for their historical value.

A National Register designation does not obligate or restrict a private property owner in any way unless the owner seeks a federal benefit such as a grant or tax credit. For a private owner, the chief practical benefit of having a property recognized as contributing to a National Register district is eligibility for a 20% federal tax credit that can be claimed against the cost of a certified rehabilitation of an income-producing historic building. Properties formally recognized as not contributing to a National Register district may be eligible for a 10% federal tax credit. For communities, establishing a National Register District can provide an important financial incentive to developers who may be able to utilize the federal tax credits for  projects. This tool has been proven tp transform neighborhoods and communities. It is also an excellent way to document officially its historic assets. Answers to frequently asked questions regarding the National Register may be found HERE. Download the Tennessee Historic Commission brochure on National Register districts HERE. Read more about preservation law and the National Register of Historic Places HERE.

Strategies ♦ Visit and learn about National Register districts established in our area. See a complete list of National Register sites and districts in our region HERE (Excel file). There are different types of National Register districts in our region. You will find them in places like Cades Cove, Norris and Oak Ridge, along Indiana Avenue in Maryville and in Cornstalk Heights in Harriman, in downtown Jellico and Sevierville, at Emory Place and Market Square in Knoxville, and on the Maryville College campus. See how the State of Tennessee markets historic districts, a key aspect of heritage-based tourism, HERE.

Partners ♦ If you wish to explore designating a National Register district in your community, Knox Heritage and the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance can provide an overview of that process and explain the benefits of doing so. The Preservation Planner at the East Tennessee Development District  is our regional link to the Tennessee Historical Commission (THC) which provides direct assistance to local communities who wish to establish such districts. Professional surveys to determine eligibility for new districts may have potential to be partially funded through a federal preservation grant administered by THC.

Build a Reference Library ♦ The Politics of Historic Districts, A Primer for Grassroots Preservation and Preservation Politics, Keeping Historic Districts Vital by Bill Schmickle.


Tool ♦ Local Historic Districts

Use this to control demolition and properly guide how buildings are renovated, altered or built new as infill.

Recognizing a district in the National Register is a great asset identifier, an honor for the community and may lead to some property owners being able to take advantage of federal tax incentives when repairing or redeveloping historic buildings. However, the National Register cannot prevent demolition, require proper maintenance, control alternations or set a vision for how a neighborhood develops in the future. Only by establishing a local historic district can a community really take charge of protecting its current assets while guiding future growth in a fair and professional manner. Across the nation, hundreds of communities have taken action to preserve their unique historic character through the passing of historic preservation ordinances and the creation of historic zoning commissions using design review processes.The ordinance, commission and design review (through formal guidelines) are the fundamental components for having a local historic district. Learn more by reading this quick FAQ.

The state enabling legislation for historic zoning in Tennessee is found in Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 13, Chapter 7, Part 4. In part, this legislation permits towns, cities, and counties to create an overlay zoning that regulates the “construction, repair, alteration, rehabilitation, relocation, and demolition of any building or other structure which is located or proposed to be located within the boundaries of any historic district or zone.” This legislation also calls for the creation of historic zoning commissions of five to nine persons to review applications, based upon design guidelines created for the historic district.

Strategies ♦ Regional communities such as Dandridge, Jefferson City and Knoxville have local historic districts governed by commissions and guidelines. Learn from other communities, such as Jonesborough, TN or  Franklin, TN. Read: Local Historic Districts Are Good For Your Pocketbook: The Impact of Local Historic Districts on House Prices in South Carolina. Also read: The Ten Benefits of Establishing a Local Historic District.

Partners ♦ If you wish to explore creating a local historic district in your community, Knox Heritage and the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance can provide an overview of that process and explain the benefits of doing so. The Preservation Planner at the East Tennessee Development District  is our regional link to the Tennessee Historical Commission (THC) which provides direct assistance to local communities who wish to establish such districts. Professional surveys to determine eligibility for new districts may have potential to be partially funded through a federal preservation grant administered by THC.


Tool ♦ Historic Zoning Commissions

This is the political body which governs the local historic district design review process.
Establishing a local historic district means a community wants to preserve the neighborhood’s good characteristics while allowing for growth and changes to occur in a way that is respectful to other properties and the district as a whole. The best way to do that is by establishing a zoning “overlay” for the district that adds additional requirements to the base zoning classification, also known as “guidelines”. These guidelines may include demolition control, rules for thoughtful exterior modifications and enhanced requirements for new construction. To monitor and enforce the guidelines, a historic zoning commission (HZC) must be established. This involves first passing an ordinance allowing the community to establish a local historic district and HZC. As mentioned above, the state enabling legislation for historic zoning in Tennessee is found in Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 13, Chapter 7, Part 4.

Strategies ♦ Morristown is an example of a community that passed an ordinance in preparation for establishing local historic districts. You can read that ordinance HERE. Sweetwater and Jefferson City have recently formed historic zoning commissions. Explore the City of Franklin’s historic preservation program pages to get a feel for how these programs can develop over time.

Partners ♦ The Tennessee Historical Commission assists local communities who have established or wish to establish local historic preservation programs. The Local Government coordinator can provide assistance in writing historic zoning ordinances, conducting public meetings, establishing historic districts and design guidelines, and in becoming a Certified Local Government (discussed below).

Continuing Education for Established HZC Members ♦ Watch for workshops and conferences in Tennessee approved by the Tennessee Historical Commission for HZC and CLG continuing education, such as the annual East Tennessee Preservation Conference/Summit and the Tennessee Preservation Trust Conference. Consider attending a Commission Assistance and Mentoring Program (CAMP®). Visit the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions Technical Assistance page for in-depth reading on preservation law, building codes, hardship cases and substitute materials.


Tool ♦ Tennessee Historic Commission  Comprehensive Plan for Preservation in TN

Learn about state law and other resources available in Tennessee.

The state agency responsible for promoting and carrying out the stewardship of historic resources across the State of Tennessee, the Tennessee Historical Commission (THC) plays an important role. One of the THC’s duties under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA), as amended, is to develop a comprehensive plan for historic preservation in the state. Periodically, THC undertakes a public planning process to help define the goals of the plan, which needs to be updated or revised as circumstances within the state change over time. This iteration of the plan is intended to guide statewide efforts to protect Tennessee’s heritage through 2018. With the 2012 edition, the THC has undertaken a planning process that seeks to ensure that the major priorities have been assessed by stakeholders and citizens and those accomplishments can be measured. This plan builds upon the previous editions – affirming goals that further historic preservation as a key component of community revitalization, economic development, and as essential to Tennesseans’ quality of life. Read the PDF HERE.


Tool ♦ Design Guidelines (Design Review)

Design guidelines are used by Historic Zoning Commissions for reviewing the appropriateness of proposed construction. 

When a local historic district is established, it typically already has zoning in place. This zoning regulates the general activities allowed in the zone (residential, commercial, etc.), specific uses (retail stores, single-family residential, etc.) and basic development requirements such as building setbacks, height and minimum parking. Design guidelines for historic zoning commissions add another layer that is specific for the historic district. This is done by adding a historic overlay which is the planning tool used to protect the architectural and historic character of the district and also to manage growth and change through public design review. When a change or new construction is proposed (a building permit requested), there is a formal process for obtaining a “Certificate of Appropriateness” (COA) before work can begin.

The best design guidelines are based on national standards and are customized for a district. They provide direction for project applicants and ensure that all applicants are treated fairly. DON’T BE AFRAID OF DESIGN GUIDELINES! When used properly, good guidelines enforced by competent historic zoning commission are fair, benefit property owners, protect property values and stabilize neighborhoods. Historic districts can customize their guidelines to fit their needs at any point in time, so what is appropriate for Charleston, SC may not be appropriate for a town in East Tennessee.

Strategies ♦ The National Alliance of Preservation Commissions has links to design guidelines used across America. Take a look at the proposed Historic Mossy Creek District (downtown Jefferson City) guidelines HERE. Review the National Park Service article on Creating and Using Design Guidelines.

Partners ♦ The Tennessee Historical Commission assists local communities who have established or wish to establish local historic preservation programs. The Local Government coordinator can provide assistance in writing historic zoning ordinances, conducting public meetings, establishing historic districts and design guidelines, and in becoming a Certified Local Government (discussed below).


Tool ♦ Certified Local Government Designation (CLG)

For communities with local historic districts and historic zoning commissions, it is very beneficial to become recognized as a Certified Local Government (CLG). The CLG program has become a cost-effective local, state, and federal partnership. The CLG Program has been a major source of support and guidance for local communities for over twenty years. Local governments can benefit from becoming a CLG in many ways. CLG’s receive priority in technical assistance and services from the Tennessee Historical Commission (THC). Training sessions for historic zoning commissioners are held on-site at the request of the CLG. Special networking meetings are held for CLG staff and historic zoning commissioners to discuss issues in historic zoning and historic preservation. The THC is also required to allocate at least 10% of the Historic Preservation Fund Grants to CLG’s, thus receiving priority status in grant funding.

Strategies ♦ See a list of current CLG communities in Tennessee HERE. In our region, Jefferson City, Harriman, Dandridge and Knoxville are CLG communities.

Partners ♦ The Tennessee Historical Commission has a CLG Coordinator on staff who can provide assistance with learning more about this program.


Tool ♦ Main Street Programs

The Main Street movement has been transforming the way communities think about the revitalization and management of their downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts for decades. Learn more about the National Main Street Program HERE and the Tennessee Main Street and Tennessee Downtowns Programs HERE.


Tool ♦ Grant Programs

Grants to assist your community with preservation programs.

Many communities choose to apply for federal historic preservation grants through the Tennessee Historical Commission to complete preservation-related projects. These grants fund up to 60% of project costs and require a 40% match (can be provided with in-kind or cash funding). Various preservation initiatives can be funded using these grants, including repair or restoration activities for buildings listed in the National Register. Many local communities use these funds to restore an historic courthouse or other historic municipal buildings at the heart of the community. Repairs must follow the Secretary of Interior Standards, a set of guidelines established by the National Park Service. Pre-development planning, such as architectural planning for restoration of a National Register-listed property, is also considered a grant-eligible activity. Architectural surveys can also be funded by grants and record the location of historic buildings (typically at least 50 years old) and potential districts within defined geographical units such as counties, cities, neighborhoods, or central business districts. The act of surveying, which is considered a high priority for grant funding, can lead to more comprehensive preservation planning or publically-accessible historic information such as digitized records. Development of design guidelines is an additional activity eligible for grant funding. Many communities make revisions to older guidelines by having a professional consultant develop additional maps, graphics and text, while some communities choose to establish new design review guidelines for their existing historic districts. Projects to educate or inform the public regarding historic resources and preservation are also classified as planning projects and are eligible for grants.

Strategies ♦ See a recent list of grant-funded preservation projects in Tennessee here.

Partners ♦ The Tennessee Historical Commission accepts federal preservation grant applications in January each year. Program information can be found here. The East Tennessee Development District (ETDD) often assists local governments in the region with project development/planning and preparation of grant applications. Contact ETDD Preservation Planner Lindsay Crockett at lcrockett@etdd.org or (865) 273-6003.


Tool ♦ Books on Preservation

Find the reference book that’s right for you: Preservation Bookstore on PreservationDirectory.com; 13 Essential Preservation Books from the National Trust