Is it Time to Designate a Local Historic District?

As many of our residents know, Greenhills is one of three federally planned and constructed greenbelt communities in the nation.  (The other two greenbelt communities are Greenbelt, Maryland and Greendale, Wisconsin.)  Undertaken by the government in the 1930’s, under the Roosevelt Administration, the purpose of the federal greenbelt project was to supply jobs and to offer an escape from the congested inner-city neighborhoods through the construction of a small town with plenty of park-like areas surrounded by a greenbelt.

In 1989, the oldest area of Greenhills – identified as a “district” – was listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service.  The designation was based on the community’s planning and development, as well as its social history.  The town planners for Greenhills (Justin Richardson Hartzog and Joseph Fradley Whitney) designed the elements that have led to the Village’s historic contributions to the evolution of the suburban community, including the evolution of the cul-de-sac, a system of pedestrian paths and parks, curving streets, superblocks, internal green space with pedestrian blocks, and a hierarchy of roads designed for outward flow, traffic safety, reduced costs by minimizing the size and length of water and sewer mains, underground wiring, and the amount of paved surfaces.

The National Register of Historic Places is a federal program and such a listing denotes that a property – or in this case, a district – is worthy of preservation for its historical value.  There are no zoning or design requirements associated with such a listing.

About a year ago, a slightly larger “district” was designated a National Historic Landmark.  This federal program focuses on properties or districts that are of exceptional value to the nation, rather than just to a State or locality. There are no zoning or design requirements associated with this designation. Streets included in the National Historic Landmark District include Alcott, Andover, Ashby, Avenell, Bachman, Belknap, Bradnor, Briarwood, Brompton, Burley, Burnham, Chalmers, Cromwell, Damon, DeWitt, Drummond, Falcon, Farragut, Flanders, Foxworth, Funston, Gambier, and the west side of Ingram.

A local historic district is the tool that can insure there is little change to the historic area that received the NHL designation. The State’s Historic Preservation Office oversees the Certified Local Government (CLG) Program that allows communities to identify local districts and regulate improvements proposed to be made within those districts. Some communities set up local districts but never obtain a National Historic Landmark (NHL) designation.  Then there are communities like Mariemont, Ohio that had a local district long before receiving their NHL designation. On the opposite end of the spectrum, our neighbor – Glendale, Ohio – had the NHL designation 20 years before establishing a local historic district.

Within each local district, design regulations are developed to ensure that any exterior improvements in the local district are consistent with existing features, which in Greenhills would include architectural features as well as topographical and other layout features unique to our Village.

There are many advantages to a local district:

  • A local district insures the continuation of the unique historic characteristics of the district.
  • A local district will protect a property owner’s investment by insuring that older structures in the district are kept to certain standards of care and restoration since any major changes must be approved by a review board.
  • A local district will maintain its original quaint atmosphere.
  • A local district offers economic benefits to property owners, in that:
    • Home values tend to be higher;
    • Home prices appreciate faster; and
    • Home values stay more stable in a down market.

While a local district has many advantages, there are disadvantages as well. For example, the enforcement of historic design regulations may place additional obligations on property owners/improvements within the district.  There can be strict review boards that will review all permit applications for work on or around a structure within the district. Also, because of historic design regulations, improvements may come at a higher cost, as specific material or construction may be required.

But despite these added responsibilities, historic neighborhoods can thrive; people are attracted to them because of the attention to detail and care put into preserving the historical designs of these neighborhoods.

Think of any historic district – are any of them depressed areas? NO! Data shows the property values in a local district can increase 5 – 35% over a decade in comparison to similar undesignated neighborhoods (Benefits of Residential Historic District Designation for Property Owners, Jonathan Mabry, 6/7/07).

What questions do you have about local districts?  Please email me at ekovach@greenhillsohio.org.  In a future article I will try to address those questions!