Local Effort Successes
Chester County is fortunate to still have many historic resources standing and in continued use and adaptive reuse. The efforts of many individuals (homeowners and citizens) and organizations are to be credited with this success. These resources play a key role in retaining the integrity of the county’s historic fabric and sense of place. Chester County is second only to Philadelphia in the number of resources on and eligible for the National Register of Historic Places - more than 500 individual resources and nearly 100 districts. Chester County also contains several National Historic Landmarks and National Historic Landmark Districts, with designated landmarks being few across the nation, as they hold the highest distinction a resource can be given.
Historic Resource Surveys and Mapping
A historic resource survey defines what resources exist and why they are important. Most Chester County municipalities participated in the Chester County Historic Sites Survey (1979-1982), a preliminary or “windshield” survey list of resources that reviewed residential resources 50 years or older. Since 2004 the Chester County Historic Resources Atlas project has worked to update this list. Just over half of the county has completed a historic atlas, with others in progress. Such surveys are critical to knowing what to preserve and why. Though crucial to preservation planning, surveys are time and labor intensive, and therefore costly. This has led to various levels of surveys and associated mapping in Chester County. Work to improve and extend historic resource surveys and mapping in the county should continue, allowing critical historic resources to be identified for preservation and help ensure that development interacts appropriately with historic resources.
Public Understanding of Historic Preservation
While historic preservation has made great progress in becoming an integral part of overall planning, at times it still fails to be given appropriate consideration. The value of historic preservation must consistently be promoted for communities to be aware of the positive economic and quality of life benefits. More education and outreach about historic preservation benefits, mechanisms, and tools would help advance sound community planning and preservation of critical resources and context. To be effective, education should be geared to the public, elected officials, land and property owners and occur regularly. Changing elected officials and volunteers make ongoing education a constant need.
Local Effort Challenges
Pennsylvania’s governmental structure results in small communities with limited staff, volunteers, and funding tackling multiple issues, historic preservation being just one of them. Limited public support for historic preservation as a high priority and the conflicts that arise between individual property rights and historic preservation also create challenges to historic preservation at the local level. In Chester County, local historical commissions are the cornerstones of successful historic preservation. There are approximately 60 municipalities in the county with a historic resources entity to address historic preservation, however at times they are not integrated in municipal processes, such as land development. This limits the ability of historical commission’s to promote historic preservation. There are also approximately 60 municipalities with historic resource regulations in place, most often within zoning and/or subdivision and land development ordinances. These regulations have been effective in preserving historic resources, however conversations and collaborations to preserve resources should often start earlier than mandated by regulation to achieve the best outcome.
Loss of Historic Context
In the development process the connection between a historic structure and its context, or broader landscape (e.g. surrounding open space, natural resources, landscaping, setbacks, adjacent or nearby historic resources) can become lost. With each historic landscape loss the county incrementally loses its distinctive and irreplaceable character and sense of place. Many historic regulations are focused on an individual structure and not its context. Historic preservation should take into account context, as it inherently contributes to the overall resource. To be most successful, historic preservation needs to be linked to preservation of supporting features.
Need for Continued Economic Viability
Changing demands regarding building design and materials, as well as the spatial needs of modern uses are factors when planning for ongoing use of historic resources. Historic buildings are at their best when actively maintained and used; hence continued viability is critical to successful historic preservation. Development pressure can lead to demolition of historic buildings, and it is often initially not considered economically viable to invest in a historic resource rehabilitation or conversion. A long-term perspective, combined with local regulation and incentives, can help overcome this hurdle.
- CCPC’s Adaptive Reuse eTool
- National Trust for Historic Preservation: Reurbanism: Shaping Communities Through Reuse
Lack of Funding
Relative to other areas of preservation, there is limited funding for historic preservation projects. Historic preservation projects ultimately involve rehabilitation to structures, which can be an expensive undertaking with few funding resources, whether from public or private sources, or in the form of grants, loans, or tax credits. State and federal funding programs can also be complicated to navigate. Additionally, there is no specific rehabilitation funding for residential historic properties. Accessing available staff resources at the county and state are essential to best understand existing programs.
- Chester County Planning Commission, call 610-344-6285 or email email@example.com
- Visit PA Historic and Museum Commision
Need for Context Sensitive Design
Balancing preservation with modern projects has improved but remains a challenge. Design guidelines and specific standards help facilitate context analysis and context sensitive design solutions, and provide direction for the treatment of existing historic features and compatible new construction. Guidelines need to be clearly stated, user-friendly, and provide options to successfully encourage planning solutions that protect the historic character of an individual resource or district.