Christiansburg, VA begins assessing the use of
Historic Overlay Districts:
Following more than a year of discussion by the Christiansburg Planning Commission and the Town Council, the Town is taking the first steps at assessing citizen responses to developing historic overlay districts. The first such outreach has been directed to those property owners in the existing historic districts (recognized in State and National Historic Registers) and the owners of properties directly adjacent to those districts.
In the past, recognition as a Historic District required that all properties be directly connected to each other. This established a situation in which one property owner, choosing not to participate in the program could effectively block a multitude of other properties from inclusion.
One of the benefits of having a local Historic District is that it can be used to include those additional properties and give property owners access to state preservation tax credits.
For information provided by the Town go to Historic District(s) on the town's website. The Town provides a map of existing districts and structures (although the placement isn't exactly precise in some cases, it conveys the point) and a questionnaire (some of the questions make absolutely no sense). Information provided makes it appear that this proposed ordinance would apply only to existing historic districts. That is true only if the Town chooses it to be true. It is certainly not how Historic Overlays are utilized in other areas. The bottom line will be based upon citizen input. That, of course, means that citizens will have to choose to participate in public meetings, write and call Councilmembers, and express their thoughts and questions on this matter in every form possible.
Specifically noted in the page giving the goals of the questionnaire is a section listing Historic Distric Cons. What this area does not clarify is that it is how the Code is written that determines these issues. The Code can be written in such a manner as to negate virtually all of these Cons without affecting the Pros. It is not a matter of choosing to have such an ordinance that creates the issues, it is in how the Town chooses to write the Code. (See links below for further information on the Pros and Cons of Historic Overlay Districts).
I have included here the first two of several maps that show the potential reach such Historic Overlays could have based upon the age of the structure on the property. This does not mean that all of those structure would be eligible for the Historic Registry. Many of them may have been modified to such a point as to not meet the criteria, but it does show the areas that should be looked at for inclusion into any Historic Overlays.
The use of Historic Overlays has been controversial due to some places instituting policies that are ridiculously restrictive and others applying the term but exerting no control. The ultimate goal is to strive to maintain the 'historic flavor' of an area without being overly restrictive of property owner rights. That is how the code should be written. It is in the writing of the Code, not the naming of a district that issues arise. It is about maintaining the visual 'presence' of an area.
Goals of the Town of Christiansburg Historic District Questionnaire from the Town's document (my comments are in red below each one:
Historic District Questionnaire Goals
• Make the public aware of the existing districts and buildings listed on the Virginia Landmarks
Register and National Register of Historic Places.
This is done by providing a map and one paragraph giving the physical locations of existing districts.
• Make the public aware that the Town could adopt its own historic district(s) and incorporate
regulations into the Zoning Ordinance.
Nothing found in document to address this issue. (See links below for specific information related to the development of such districts ---provided by me.) Questions 1, 2, and 3 on the Questionnaire do ask how you 'feel' about some of the possible issues that could arise if the Town writes them into their code, but provides no information on what these types of regulations would actually involve.
• Determine if the public sentiment is to pursue the adoption of Town local historic district(s) and
incorporation of regulations into the Zoning Ordinance.
Questions 4, 5, and 6 ask people who have been provided virtually no information about the process and what these questions are designed to answer, how they feel about various types of development within existing historic districts (no mention of stand-alone structures is included.
• If the public sentiment is to pursue the adoption of Town historic district(s) and incorporation of
regulations into the Zoning Ordinance, determine what the districts should be, what type of
regulations should be enacted, and to what extent the regulations should control existing and new
There is no clear discussion of proposed regulations that the Town is considering. There is no information provided by the Town to indicate exactly what they are considering in the proposed boundaries of said historic districts beyond identifying those already noted as historic districts by State and National standards. No discussion/information is offered as to the inclusion of other areas that were not included at the time of the Federal or State level because of laws that have since been change relating to how all properties within a district must be directly connected to each other.
• If the public sentiment is to pursue the adoption of Town historic district(s) and incorporation of
regulations into the Zoning Ordinance, determine if the public desires an architectural review board.
An evaluation of 'public sentiment' when the public has been given insufficient information to make decisions based upon all the facts, is a waste of time and energy. Public input sessions should have been held prior to the development of the questionnaire in order to gain an understanding of what citizens know about the process, what they need to know in order to make knowledgable decisions, and an educational program addressing those needs should have been established prior to the application of a questionnaire. The first step in any process involving citizens should begin with determining the knowledge level of those citizens.
Some of the questions are of questionable importance and should be evaluated for their value before being included in any determination.
Question # 12: "How many people at your address are natives of Christiansburg?"
Does this apply to the people who 'live' there, 'work' there, 'shop' there, etc. Lack of calarity of the question makes it an invalid assessment tool. Furthermore, if you are affecting property owner rights, what does it matter if that person has owned the property for 50 years, 5 years, or 5 months. That person is still the property owner.
Question #13: " How many years has each person at your address lived in Christiansburg?"
This question is equally invalid for the same reasons as #12. Perhaps, rather than asking Questions #12 and #13, a more salient question might have been "If you have a historic property, how much did you invest in the restoration or preservation of the property?"
Question 14: "If the Town adopts historic district(s) should they be smaller, larger, or the same as those recognized on the Virginia Landmarks Register and National Register of Historic Places?"
How can the Town expect people to answer such a non-specific question. What are the proposed boundaries if something smaller or larger is offered. Expansion in one direction might be entirely acceptable, while in another area would be pure idiocy. How the reader interprets that question and what is visualized as smaller or larger (or the same since so many citizens do not know what the boundaries of the exiting historic districts are) can vary significantly from individual to individual. Data received from this type of input is useless.
Question 15: "Do you believe a property owner should have the right to demolish a structure in a historic district if it is in disrepair without any additional regulation?"
This is clearly worded to frighten people into believing that any new code would be of such a form as to remove the property owner's rights to the property. This would only be an issue if the code is written in that manner. The code can be written as restrictive or non-restrictive as the Town warrants.
Question 16: "Would you be willing to pay additional taxes in order to better enforce regulations and enact new regulations in historic districts?"
Again, another simple fear tactic in use by government. What would any such tax increase be? Less than 5%, less than 1%, less than 1/100th%? Would there be any increase at all? It would, again, depend upon the boundaries established and how the code is worded.
Here are two of the maps showing all potential areas that could be included and thus provided some degree of protection in maintaining their current environment. Note that all of the areas that are in color are those areas which are in excess of 50 years of age and therefore should be considered for inclusion.
Some Relevant State Codes
§ 15.2-2224. Surveys and studies to be made in
preparation of plan; implementation of plan.
A. In the preparation of a comprehensive plan, the local planning
commission shall survey and study such matters as the following:
1. Use of land, preservation of agricultural and forestal land,
production of food and fiber, characteristics and conditions of
existing development, trends of growth or changes, natural resources,
historic areas, ground water, surface water, geologic factors, population
factors, employment, environmental and economic factors, existing
public facilities, drainage, flood control and flood damage prevention
measures, dam break inundation zones and potential impacts to downstream
properties to the extent that information concerning such information
exists and is available to the local planning authority, the transmission
of electricity, road improvements, and any estimated cost thereof,
transportation facilities, transportation improvements, and any
cost thereof, the need for affordable housing in both the locality
and planning district within which it is situated, and any other
matters relating to the subject matter and general purposes of the
However, if a locality chooses not to survey and study historic
areas, then the locality shall include historic areas in the comprehensive
plan, if such areas are identified and surveyed by the Department
of Historic Resources. Furthermore, if a locality chooses not to
survey and study mineral resources, then the locality shall include
mineral resources in the comprehensive plan, if such areas are identified
and surveyed by the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. The
requirement to study the production of food and fiber shall apply
only to those plans adopted on or after January 1, 1981.
§ 15.2-2283. Purpose of zoning ordinances.
Zoning ordinances shall be for the general purpose
of promoting the health, safety or general welfare of the public
and of further accomplishing the objectives of § 15.2-2200. To these
ends, such ordinances shall be designed to give reasonable consideration
to each of the following purposes, where applicable: (i) to provide
for adequate light, air, convenience of access, and safety from
fire, flood, impounding structure failure, crime and other dangers;
(ii) to reduce or prevent congestion in the public streets; (iii)
to facilitate the creation of a convenient, attractive and harmonious
community; (iv) to facilitate the provision of adequate police and
fire protection, disaster evacuation, civil defense, transportation,
water, sewerage, flood protection, schools, parks, forests, playgrounds,
recreational facilities, airports and other public requirements;
(v) to protect against destruction of or encroachment upon historic
areas; (vi) to protect against one or more of the following: overcrowding
of land, undue density of population in relation to the community
facilities existing or available, obstruction of light and air,
danger and congestion in travel and transportation, or loss of life,
health, or property from fire, flood, impounding structure failure,
panic or other dangers; (vii) to encourage economic development
activities that provide desirable employment and enlarge the tax
base; (viii) to provide for the preservation of agricultural and
forestal lands and other lands of significance for the protection
of the natural environment; (ix) to protect approach slopes and
other safety areas of licensed airports, including United States
government and military air facilities; (x) to promote the creation
and preservation of affordable housing suitable for meeting the
current and future needs of the locality as well as a reasonable
proportion of the current and future needs of the planning district
within which the locality is situated; and (xi) to provide reasonable
protection against encroachment upon military bases, military installations,
and military airports and their adjacent safety areas, excluding
armories operated by the Virginia National Guard. Such ordinance
may also include reasonable provisions, not inconsistent with applicable
state water quality standards, to protect surface water and ground
water as defined in § 62.1-255.
(Code 1950, §§ 15-821, 15-968.3; 1962, c. 407, § 15.1-489;
1966, c. 344; 1968, c. 407; 1975, c. 641; 1976, c. 642; 1980, c.
321; 1983, c. 439; 1988, c. 439; 1989, cc. 447, 449; 1990, cc. 19,
169, 384; 1992, c. 812; 1993, cc. 758, 884; 1997, c. 587; 2004,
c. 799; 2008, c. 491.)
§ 15.2-2306. Preservation of historical sites and
A. 1. Any locality may adopt an ordinance setting forth the historic
landmarks within the locality as established by the Virginia Board
of Historic Resources, and any other buildings or structures within
the locality having an important historic, architectural, archaeological
or cultural interest, any historic areas within the locality as
defined by § 15.2-2201, and areas of unique architectural value
located within designated conservation, rehabilitation or redevelopment
districts, amending the existing zoning ordinance and delineating
one or more historic districts, adjacent to such landmarks, buildings
and structures, or encompassing such areas, or encompassing parcels
of land contiguous to arterial streets or highways (as designated
pursuant to Title 33.1, including § 33.1-41.1 of that title) found
by the governing body to be significant routes of tourist access
to the locality or to designated historic landmarks, buildings,
structures or districts therein or in a contiguous locality. An
amendment of the zoning ordinance and the establishment of a district
or districts shall be in accordance with the provisions of Article
7 (§ 15.2-2280 et seq.) of this chapter. The governing body may
provide for a review board to administer the ordinance and may provide
compensation to the board. The ordinance may include a provision
that no building or structure, including signs, shall be erected,
reconstructed, altered or restored within any such district unless
approved by the review board or, on appeal, by the governing body
of the locality as being architecturally compatible with the historic
landmarks, buildings or structures therein.
2. Subject to the provisions of subdivision 3 of this subsection
the governing body may provide in the ordinance that no historic
landmark, building or structure within any district shall be razed,
demolished or moved until the razing, demolition or moving thereof
is approved by the review board, or, on appeal, by the governing
body after consultation with the review board.
3. The governing body shall provide by ordinance for appeals to
the circuit court for such locality from any final decision of the
governing body pursuant to subdivisions 1 and 2 of this subsection
and shall specify therein the parties entitled to appeal the decisions,
which parties shall have the right to appeal to the circuit court
for review by filing a petition at law, setting forth the alleged
illegality of the action of the governing body, provided the petition
is filed within thirty days after the final decision is rendered
by the governing body. The filing of the petition shall stay the
decision of the governing body pending the outcome of the appeal
to the court, except that the filing of the petition shall not stay
the decision of the governing body if the decision denies the right
to raze or demolish a historic landmark, building or structure.
The court may reverse or modify the decision of the governing body,
in whole or in part, if it finds upon review that the decision of
the governing body is contrary to law or that its decision is arbitrary
and constitutes an abuse of discretion, or it may affirm the decision
of the governing body. In addition to the right of appeal hereinabove
set forth, the owner of a historic landmark, building or structure,
the razing or demolition of which is subject to the provisions of
subdivision 2 of this subsection, shall, as a matter of right, be
entitled to raze or demolish such landmark, building or structure
provided that: (i) he has applied to the governing body for such
right, (ii) the owner has for the period of time set forth in the
same schedule hereinafter contained and at a price reasonably related
to its fair market value, made a bona fide offer to sell the landmark,
building or structure, and the land pertaining thereto, to the locality
or to any person, firm, corporation, government or agency thereof,
or political subdivision or agency thereof, which gives reasonable
assurance that it is willing to preserve and restore the landmark,
building or structure and the land pertaining thereto, and (iii)
no bona fide contract, binding upon all parties thereto, shall have
been executed for the sale of any such landmark, building or structure,
and the land pertaining thereto, prior to the expiration of the
applicable time period set forth in the time schedule hereinafter
contained. Any appeal which may be taken to the court from the decision
of the governing body, whether instituted by the owner or by any
other proper party, notwithstanding the provisions heretofore stated
relating to a stay of the decision appealed from shall not affect
the right of the owner to make the bona fide offer to sell referred
to above. No offer to sell shall be made more than one year after
a final decision by the governing body, but thereafter the owner
may renew his request to the governing body to approve the razing
or demolition of the historic landmark, building or structure. The
time schedule for offers to sell shall be as follows: three months
when the offering price is less than $25,000; four months when the
offering price is $25,000 or more but less than $40,000; five months
when the offering price is $40,000 or more but less than $55,000;
six months when the offering price is $55,000 or more but less than
$75,000; seven months when the offering price is $75,000 or more
but less than $90,000; and twelve months when the offering price
is $90,000 or more.
4. The governing body is authorized to acquire in any legal manner
any historic area, landmark, building or structure, land pertaining
thereto, or any estate or interest therein which, in the opinion
of the governing body should be acquired, preserved and maintained
for the use, observation, education, pleasure and welfare of the
people; provide for their renovation, preservation, maintenance,
management and control as places of historic interest by a department
of the locality or by a board, commission or agency specially established
by ordinance for the purpose; charge or authorize the charging of
compensation for the use thereof or admission thereto; lease, subject
to such regulations as may be established by ordinance, any such
area, property, lands or estate or interest therein so acquired
upon the condition that the historic character of the area, landmark,
building, structure or land shall be preserved and maintained; or
to enter into contracts with any person, firm or corporation for
the management, preservation, maintenance or operation of any such
area, landmark, building, structure, land pertaining thereto or
interest therein so acquired as a place of historic interest; however,
the locality shall not use the right of condemnation under this
subsection unless the historic value of such area, landmark, building,
structure, land pertaining thereto, or estate or interest therein
is about to be destroyed.
B. Notwithstanding any contrary provision of law, general or special,
in the City of Portsmouth no approval of any governmental agency
or review board shall be required for the construction of a ramp
to serve the handicapped at any structure designated pursuant to
the provisions of this section.
(1973, c. 270, § 15.1-503.2; 1974, c. 90; 1975, cc. 98, 574, 575,
641; 1977, c. 473; 1987, c. 563; 1988, c. 700; 1989, c. 174; 1993,
c. 770; 1996, c. 424; 1997, cc. 587, 676.)