The Difficult Part of Regulatory Review

As mentioned before, I love the regulatory world of historic preservation. I love working for the Agency of Transportation and having the opportunity to see historic preservation affect everyone and every place. It is exciting and practical and challenging.

Interpreting the legal language and implications of Section 106 and Section 4(f) can seem like a puzzle, but it gets easier and makes more sense with practice and experience. However, I have found that the most difficult part of interpreting and applying preservation law is realizing that the laws cannot help everything. What do I mean? Well, if a property is not historic or a Section 4(f) resource such as a park or a wildlife/waterfowl refuge, then the preservation laws have no control over the direction of the project. Other reviews, such as those pertaining to natural or biological resources or storm water control may still apply regulations, if the situation warrants it. Legally, that makes sense. And in terms of historic preservation, it makes sense.

But, every so often, I think about a project that doesn’t make sense, whether it’s in the media or something that I know of from experience, and I wish that there was a law to stop or fix the project. Sometimes it doesn’t seem fair that ineligible (for the National Register) houses and neighborhoods are not protected by preservation laws. After all, people live everywhere! Don’t all existing buildings deserve some sort of chance, under somebody’s law? Shouldn’t an existing, new building be exempt from demolition because of embodied energy? Where in the project review line will something like this be addressed?

This particular desire to protect everything, no matter what sort of resource, probably dates back to my Mary Washington days, when the flamingos and I first declared that we could save the world through our historic preservation efforts. It still keeps us going.

Well, everything cannot be and is not historic. Obviously, one law cannot control or have a say over every aspect of every project — that sounds a bit too power crazed; but when you spend your days looking at projects and determining what is eligible for protection and what is not, it’s hard to ignore everything else. When that happens, it is important to remember that historic preservation review is only a small part of the review process. My job is historic preservation compliance, and that is important to remember. The best way to solve this dilemma is to keep a good working relationship with colleagues in order to understand the entire scope of the project, as well as its purpose and need, and the project review process. Luckily, I’m learning this day by day: how review functions, when to question the process and when I need to better understand the process.

Readers, what do you find most difficult about your job?