Preservation ABCs: Z is for Zoning

Preservation ABCs is a series that will work its way from A to Z, bringing words into conversation that are relevant to historic preservation, whether it’s an idea, feature or vocabulary term. The idea is to help you see preservation everywhere you look and wherever you go. Enjoy! See previous letters.

————————–

Z is for Zoning

Alexandria, VA zoning. Click image and zoom in to read the map.

Zoning is a land use control and planning tool that dictates the types of buildings and their uses for a defined area. Elements under zoning control can include setback, height, density, appearance, parking, etc). There are pros and cons to zoning, as well as different types. All of this could be an entire book or an entire class, so let’s go over just a few pieces. 

A (Very Brief) History: In the late 19th century and early 20th century, American cities passed laws that governed aspects such as height and use of buildings. New York City adopted the first citywide zoning ordinance that identified residential, commercial, and unrestricted areas. The basic form for zoning began with the Standard State Zoning Enabling Act (1924/6) and the Standard City Planning Enabling Act (1926/8), both published by the U.S. Department of Commerce.  In 1926, the Supreme Court upheld that zoning was constitutional in the case Village of Euclid, Ohio v. Ambler Realty Company (272 U.S. 365). Here the village prohibited industrial development that could change the character of the village. The parcel of land had already been divided into parcels of land with height and density requirements, which is why industry could not be developed.

There is more than one type of zoning, and how zoning is applied varies across the United States and the world. The important point to know is this: Zoning and historic preservation can be good friends or foes.

How are they linked? A zoning plan divides an areas into different sections/zones. A zoning overlay is often a historic preservation district overlay that can cover more than one zone. In other words, the residential, commercial, and  industrial zones might all have some parts in the historic district, which is the historic preservation overlay.

How can they be friends or foes? Zoning can help historic preservation by aiding in controlling and directing growth to the appropriate areas. This has the benefit of protecting density and character of an area. Consider the Urban Growth Boundary of Portland, OR. However, zoning and preservation can interfere with one another. Zoning might restrict the rehabilitation of a building. In that case, zoning would need to be revisited for revisions or amendments or a special permit (conditional use) requested.

A lack of zoning will can harm historic preservation. Perhaps the National Register Historic District has not been expanded, therefore the historic district overlay not expanded. (Districts that were listed decades ago are often smaller than districts we would list today.) Inappropriate development could be  a threat because retail/commercial could be allowed in an area where it shouldn’t be. Consider a Dollar General built within an eligible historic district, simply because zoning has not been revisited in decades.

Despite changes that might be required, having a zoning ordinance is a better place to start than no zoning ordinance. If your community does not have zoning, it is a necessity. It is easier and better to be proactive than reactive. Check your town’s zoning districts, historic districts, and ask preservationists (check with your State Historic Preservation Office) if the districts could be increased). And preservation planners, feel free to add advice in the comments.

An excellent, easy-to-understand booklet from the NPS about Historic Preservation and Zoning. Alexandria, VA map found here.

——–

And just like that, we’ve made it all the way from A to Z. Thanks for following along with this series. If there are letters that you would change, please share. 

Advertisements

Preservation ABCs: Y is for Yellow Ochre

Preservation ABCs is a series that will work its way from A to Z, bringing words into conversation that are relevant to historic preservation, whether it’s an idea, feature or vocabulary term. The idea is to help you see preservation everywhere you look and wherever you go. Enjoy! See previous letters.

————————–

Y is for Yellow Ochre

The Chinese Room painted in Yellow Ochre at Gunston Hall. Click photo for source.

The Chinese Room painted yellow ochre at Gunston Hall. Click photo for source.

Y is for Yellow Ochre because historic preservation studies need to discuss paint colors. While ordinances will not (typically) dictate the proper color of your house, each architectural style has appropriate colors. You can easily notice this when browsing the historical colors section of Benjamin Moore (check out the Colonial Willamsburg palate*), California Paints Historic Colors of America, the National Trust Historic Colors Valspar line, and others. Paint is expressive and indicative of architectural trends, cultural statements and fashion of the time. Browse through the California Paints guide for an overview and comparison between the decades of the 20th century.

As for yellow ochre? Simply put, ochre is a naturally occurring earth pigment (mostly clay with iron oxides) that would be used to color the paint. The boldness of the color can be altered by heating the iron oxides. Ochres (the pigment) are more than yellow; they are red, orange and brown.

Colors of previous centuries are not always what we’d expect (you can thank the USA bicentennial red, white, and blue patriotism for that). Colors exhibited wealth, and were not neutral as we once thought. Blues, purples, greens, yellows all made a social statement, in an impressive way.

Do you choose historically accurate colors, or mix your modern vibe with a historic house? When should colors be historically accurate? Any pet peeves you have?

Preservation ABCs: X is X-ray

Preservation ABCs is a series that will work its way from A to Z, bringing words into conversation that are relevant to historic preservation, whether it’s an idea, feature or vocabulary term. The idea is to help you see preservation everywhere you look and wherever you go. Enjoy! See previous letters.

————————–

X is for X-ray 

X-rays are not just for people in hospitals or luggage in airport security; x-ray technology provides non-destructive testing techniques to aid in building forensics as well as art and object conservation. Non-destructive testing allows for greater exploration without unnecessarily harming historic fabric. X-rays can detect voids in building materials as well as leaks, cracks, and other signs of deterioration. Part of this is to understand the structure and ensure the safety of the researchers/contractors. X-ray fluoroscopy is used to identify materials such as lead, which you know is a common question about buildings today. (See NPS Brief 35: Understanding Old Buildings.)

If you’re involved in the preservation technology field and the building sciences, you know how in depth this topic can go (books, courses, careers). Check out this NCPTT report for more information about x-rays and other digital technologies in historic preservation. It is important to remember that science and historic preservation are connected, just as engineering and preservation are linked.

Preservation ABCs: W is for Window

Preservation ABCs is a series that will work its way from A to Z, bringing words into conversation that are relevant to historic preservation, whether it’s an idea, feature or vocabulary term. The idea is to help you see preservation everywhere you look and wherever you go. Enjoy! See previous letters.

————————–

W is for Window

W is for Window.

W is for Window.

Of course W is for Window. Windows are significant features of every building, indicative of technology, design, trends, architectural style and period. Original windows give much character to a building. When original (historic) windows are replaced, the ability to read a building’s architectural style (it’s identity) is lost, at least partially.

Original windows are better quality than most replacement windows, especially vinyl windows. Please do not replace your windows. The money you spend on replacement, you will not recoup. A better bet is to install storm windows or to do easy, inexpensive energy saving tricks like weather stripping or energy shades will go a long way. And most of the energy loss leaves through your roof, not your window! This is an excellent window guide with a labeled window diagram (learn your sash from your sill from your stile) from the National Trust.

Historic preservationists discuss windows often because there are many rumors against keeping original windows, even those that can be repaired. New windows will never look the same. Look at the window in the photograph above; can you imagine how much character would be lost with another window?!

If a window cannot be repaired or must be replaced, it is best to replace a window in-kind (i.e. a wood window for a wood window with the same sash pattern). But if you can, save your money. Save your windows. Here’s a tip: most historic windows can be repaired because they were made with older growth timber. The wood we have today is not the same.

Next time you see a historic house that you love, take note of the windows. I’ll bet the windows are original or are appropriate replacements.

Preservation ABCs: V is for Viewshed

Preservation ABCs is a series that will work its way from A to Z, bringing words into conversation that are relevant to historic preservation, whether it’s an idea, feature or vocabulary term. The idea is to help you see preservation everywhere you look and wherever you go. Enjoy! See previous letters.

————————–

V is for Viewshed

The viewshed of historic downtown Montpelier, VT.

The viewshed of historic downtown Montpelier, VT. {click for sharper image}

Viewshed can be applied broadly, depending on the resource, but an easy way to understand it is like this: (1) Consider the historic property. (2) What would its surroundings have looked like during its period of significance? (3) Evaluate what changes would adversely affect that view from the historic property? (4) What is the view to the historic property from other locations?

For example, a neighborhood of small bungalows overlooking the lake would have an altered viewshed if high condominiums were constructed between the houses the lake. Think of the monstrous beach houses that block the views of the older, smaller homes. Or a historic farmstead – house, barns, outbuildings, fields – would lose its viewshed if all of the neighboring properties were developed.

This isn’t to say that all development can destroy the integrity of a viewshed; rather, new development must be done in a considerate manner with designs compatible to the historic character of its neighbors. How do you protect a viewshed? Identify what is in view from/to the property. An easement might fit the purpose of protection, or design ordinances on a municipal/town level.

Take a look at the photograph above. Both sides of the streets are lined with historic building blocks, and all are contributing properties in the Montpelier historic district. What if one of those building blocks were removed due to development pressures or fire, for example? The view of the district would be altered. Sympathetic and compatible infill would need to be constructed in order to save the integrity of the district.

Why does viewshed matter? It relates to the setting, association, and feeling of a historic property, which are three of the seven aspects of integrity, as per the National Register of Historic Places, the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Change the viewshed and you’ve altered the integrity, and quite possibly the significance of that historic property.

Preservation ABCs: U is for Utilities

Preservation ABCs is a series that will work its way from A to Z, bringing words into conversation that are relevant to historic preservation, whether it’s an idea, feature or vocabulary term. The idea is to help you see preservation everywhere you look and wherever you go. Enjoy! See previous letters.

————————–

U is for Utilities

This photo show two types of street lights and a traffic signal, without wires strung between structures. Imagine how different it would look with wires.

This photo (taken in St. Paul, MN) shows two types of street lights and a traffic signal, without wires strung between structures. Imagine how different it would look with wires.

Our streets, towns, and cities have telephone lines, fiber optic cables, cell towers, water lines, sewer lines, etc. These are utilities, and they are a fact of life for just about everyone (unless you’re choosing to live “off grid”). Utilities are most often above ground if you’re referring to wires and cables (see this discussion), whereas water and sewer lines are underground. All come into play in all sorts of projects, whether new construction, rehabilitation, or transportation, to name a few. The locations of utilities are important, as is the sustainability of utilities. Are underground wires the better choice for weather related problems?

While utilities wires are a necessity to modern life (until everything is wireless someday), the fact is that there are more wires than in the past. And these wires can obscure viewsheds to and from historic buildings (example seen here). Traffic signals, telephones, cable: sometimes these can be overwhelming in our view. Consider these questions. Should traffic signals have mast arms or overhead wires? Should street lights be attached to telephone poles or separate structures? Where should a traffic signal control box be located? To which part of the house should the utilities connect?

Not sure what you think? The next time you see a telephone pole, count how many wires are strung across it. How would your neighborhood look with wires or without wires (hence, they are underground)? The next time you are in a downtown or neighborhood core, look around. Do you see wires?

What do you think is the best solution? Undergrounding utilities is expensive, but makes an incredible difference, whether people consciously realize it or not.

Preservation ABCs: T is for Trees

Preservation ABCs is a series that will work its way from A to Z, bringing words into conversation that are relevant to historic preservation, whether it’s an idea, feature or vocabulary term. The idea is to help you see preservation everywhere you look and wherever you go. Enjoy! See previous letters.

————————–

T is for Trees

TisforTree.jpg

Now that it’s spring, it’s the perfect to appreciate trees in your town. Seen here is King Street in Burlington, VT.

When talking historic preservation, the instinct is to think of buildings and architectural styles, even though we know by now that preservation goes far beyond architecture. And the built environment encompasses streets, buildings, landscape, objects and unique characteristics of its setting. Aside from the benefit of providing oxygen to us, trees play an important role in historic properties. Often trees are contributing elements to the historic significance of resources.

Trees vary from region to region. A sugar maple in Vermont, a palm tree in Florida, a long leaf pine in North Carolina – trees aid in creating the setting. They provide a human scale, as well as a connection between the natural and built environment. Historic neighborhoods and towns often have tree lined streets, filled with trees that have matured. Historic farmsteads can have trees 100+ years old, planted when the house was built to mark time or provide wind protection. Newer properties and developments have smaller trees, planted with the intention that they will grow large and provide foliage and protection from the elements.

When streets lack trees it can be for a few reasons. Some species of trees suffered blights, wiping out entire cities of trees. The Dutch Elm disease struck the United States as early as the 1930s. Over the course of a few decades, American towns and cities lost their beautiful Elm trees. Historic photographs of a town might show beautiful tree lined streets, whereas today there might be very few trees on those same streets. In other cases, trees have been removed for construction reasons, whether road widening, sidewalks, parking lots, demolition, etc. Fortunately, trees are earning more respect as contributing to historic districts and properties.

Take note of the trees where you are. Streets look wider without trees, but perhaps the openness is less inviting. Trees provide shadows and tell nature’s story as the seasons change. Without so many trees (and other plants/bushes) would the seasons mean as much? (Certainly, my excitement for warm weather would not nearly be as great as it is!) Can you imagine your favorite street, campus, or park without its trees? Next time you’re describing a historic resource, a house or a district, pay additional attention to the trees. Chances are that they contribute to its setting and historic integrity.

Preservation ABCs: S is for Shutter

Preservation ABCs is a series that will work its way from A to Z, bringing words into conversation that are relevant to historic preservation, whether it’s an idea, feature or vocabulary term. The idea is to help you see preservation everywhere you look and wherever you go. Enjoy! See previous letters.

————————–

S is for Shutter

Real (functioning) shutters on a house in Clarendon Springs, VT.

Real (functioning) shutters on a house in Clarendon Springs, VT.

Shutters adorn buildings for reasons greater than aesthetics; shutters also have a functional history associated with buildings. Originally solid wood panels on hinges, until the late 18th century when wood slat shutters were introduced, these traditionally movable panels were used for insulation, light control, privacy and protection from the elements. Consider it early air conditioning and thermal panes. Shutters can be found on the interior or the exterior of a building.

Shutters are associated with many architectural styles (according to Virginia & Lee McAlester in A Field Guide to American Houses) including French Colonial, Federal, Georgian, Greek Revival, Colonial Revival and French Eclectic. However, you can readily find shutters on any architectural style if you look. On some of these styles, shutters were meant to be functional – often on the earlier styles such as French Colonial and Georgian. During the wide-ranging Colonial Revival era, shutters became decorative.

How can you distinguish between functional shutters and decorative shutters? It’s simple, actually. Functional shutters, when closed, will cover the entire window. Decorative shutters are too small for the window openings. Consider the ranch houses of the 1950s that have shutters on either side of a large picture window. Relate that to the actual purpose of shutters, and it seems a bit silly, yes? Also, functional shutters will have hinges and hardware called “shutter dogs” which hold them in place when not being used. Many shutters today are plastic and simply attached on either side of a window. An aesthetic preference, though architectural historians find non-functional, inappropriately sized shutters to be ridiculous. (Just a peak into their architectural world!)

Does your house have shutters? What do you think of functional shutters? What do you think of shutters for decoration?

Preservation ABCs: R is for Railing

Preservation ABCs is a series that will work its way from A to Z, bringing words into conversation that are relevant to historic preservation, whether it’s an idea, feature or vocabulary term. The idea is to help you see preservation everywhere you look and wherever you go. Enjoy! See previous letters.

————————–

R is for Railing

railings

A variety of railings. Top left: a modern cable railing in a historic railyard turnable (Montpelier, VT). Top right: a pedestrian railing on a truss bridge (Woodstock, VT). Bottom left: An elaborate Federal style balustrade (Rutland County, VT). Bottom right: a joint on a simple storefront railing (Randolph, VT).

Porch railings, stair railings (balusters & banisters), bridge railings, pedestrian railings, even small handrails – all of these might be small elements of our historic buildings and structures, yet they contribute to historic integrity and have the potential to make quite an impression, subliminal or obvious. Varying in height, detail, material and purpose, railings are elements that have changed over time; they are part of architectural style classifications just as doors, windows and interior details.

Due to deterioration of metal or rot of wood, railings exposed to the elements are often replaced. In terms of transportation, pedestrian railings and bridge railings are often replaced due to new crash ratings and safety standards. In public buildings, railings are often replaced because the old one doesn’t meet height requirements. And structures that did not have originally have railings often have later additions, perhaps on stairs or fire escapes – wherever one might be needed. Some might be historically appropriate to the architectural style of the building or structure; however, there is a chance that this new railing addition is an inappropriate, generic selection or 2x4s or standard w-beam (on bridges that is) when it should be something else. Modern railings on historic structures are often meant to fade into the background, such as cable rails, in order to not convey a false impression of what is historic on the structure.

In fact, railings might be something you notice without thinking about it. Next time you are walking or driving over a bridge, look to the side. What is the railing? Does it tell you about the bridge? When you walk into a building, what do you hold onto as you enter? How about when you climb the stairs or stand on a balcony? And then consider this: do you think the railing has been replaced? Even if you haven’t studied architectural history, does this railing seem like it matches the building?

Before replacing a railing consider if it can be rehabilitated. Minor repairs or a creative solution, like adding a parapet to get pedestrian height might solve your problem.

What do you think about railings?

Preservation ABCs: Q is for Quality of Life

Preservation ABCs is a series that will work its way from A to Z, bringing words into conversation that are relevant to historic preservation, whether it’s an idea, feature or vocabulary term. The idea is to help you see preservation everywhere you look and wherever you go. Enjoy! See previous letters.

————————–

Q is for Quality of Life

A historic, walkable downtown like this one of Barre, VT might fit your quality of life.

A historic, walkable downtown like this one of Barre, VT might fit your quality of life.

Historic preservation aims to preserve the quality of life which a community values and to help foster and improve quality of life where possible. It is important to understand that quality of life means different things to everyone. Some people prefer bustling cities with reliable public transit and walkable neighborhoods. Others prefer rural country living with a small center of town. Community events might be important. Or local restaurants. Or nearby playgrounds and schools. Some prefer the beach or the mountains or the plains. The bottom line is that everyone defines their quality of life differently.

How does historic preservation connect to quality of life? Simply put, historic preservation seeks to improve the local economy, maintain and rehabilitate the existing building stock, increase awareness of a community’s heritage, engage citizens, preserve the significant past for the future and identify what and why a community is important to itself and to others. By involving people with each other and the built environment around them, their sense of place will improve and people will develop pride in their place. When people are proud of where they live and can identify what is important to them, they are happier, and as a result quality of life improves. It’s a simple chain reaction that historic preservation helps to begin. Historic preservation does not force ideas onto communities or tell people what they should prefer; it hopes the community will speak up and citizens will say “This is important to us! This is who we are and what our community is!” From that point, historic preservation will find methods to improve and protect the quality of life.

So you see, anything can feed into quality of life. And quality of life feeds into historic preservation. My favorite chain reaction is this: people define where they live –> people improve their communities and protect their communities –> people have a sense of place –> people have pride in where they live –> people have a good quality of life –> everyone is happier … therefore … historic preservation is helping to make the world a better place and helping to save the world (as we flamingos might say).