Vermont communities have been undergoing change since Europeans first settled the state in the late 18th century. For a variety of economic, cultural and policy reasons, however, most communities have retained important elements of their architectural heritage. Vermont’s historic buildings – both individually and collectively in historic districts – contribute to the state’s unique character and sense of place. Many communities have recognized the cultural and economic value of maintaining the architectural integrity of historic buildings, and the historic character of historic districts. Historic Preservation Regulations are an important tool for achieving these goals.
One of Smart Growth Vermont’s key smart growth principles is to protect and preserve environmental quality and important natural and historic features of Vermont, including natural areas, water resources, air quality, scenic resources, and historic sites and districts. An important way to protect and preserve historic sites and districts is through the adoption of historic preservation regulations. Commonly adopted as part of zoning bylaws, preservation regulations – or standards – generally serve two objectives: (1) protect historic structures from inappropriate alteration or demolition; and (2) ensure that new construction is harmonious with the character of the surrounding area, as defined by historic structures.
Vermont Statutes [§4414 (F)] specifically authorize communities to adopt historic districts, and to designate historic landmarks, as part of local zoning bylaws. According to the law: “(h)istoric districts shall include structures and areas of historic or architectural significance and may include distinctive design or landscape characteristics, areas, and structures with a particular relationship to the historic and cultural values of the surrounding area, and structures whose exterior architectural features bear a significant relationship to the remainder of the structures or to the surrounding area. Bylaws may reference national and state registers of historic places, properties, and districts.
If a community adopts historic preservation regulations and designates a historic district in its zoning bylaws, any external alteration to existing structures, or any new construction, would need to be approved by the local review board. In granting approval, the board must consider:
- The historic or architectural significance of the structure, its distinctive characteristics, and its relationship to the historic significance of the surrounding area.
- The relationship of the proposed changes in the exterior architectural features of the structure to the remainder of the structure and to the surrounding area.
- The general compatibility of the proposed exterior design, arrangement, texture, and materials proposed to be used.
- Any other factors, including the environmental setting and aesthetic factors that the panel deems to be pertinent.
In many communities that adopt historic preservation regulations, proposals to demolish historic structures are addressed by requiring the owner to work with local officials to develop an economically feasible plan for preserving the structure. If such a plan is not feasible, the demolition may be denied, or landowners may be required to document the structures historic significance prior to demolition.
Related Case Studies
Vermont Land Use Planning Implementation Manual: Historic Preservation. This provides more detailed information on historic preservation regulations.
Vermont Planning Statutes. This link provides the legal framework for historic preservation regulations as referenced in the Vermont Planning Statutes.