Conservation Districts - to the "pro" side
My work on this has been driven by the experience of the Prospect Park neighborhood with the existing process for designating historic districts. There was substantial interest in Prospect Park in creating a local historic district, but it turned out that the regulations such a district would have placed on individual property owners were more stringent than most people in the neighborhood were willing to accept. More importantly, there was little flexibility in crafting guidelines for this local district that would meet the needs of the community while not placing onerous requirements on property owners.
My hope is that the conservation district concept can be a tool for neighborhoods like Prospect Park that want some level of historic preservation, but want more flexible design guidelines than standard historic preservation can allow. I view it as a middle ground between full historic preservation and no protections at all for historic neighborhoods – a middle ground that might be more likely to be used.
I have heard a few reactions from supporters of the conservation district ordinance about ways in which they don’t think it goes far enough. One is about the high bar of community support to create a conservation district. Another is that conservation districts might not be a tool for restraining density. My thoughts on each are below the fold.
I want to be crystal clear about this: the conservation district ordinance is not designed to act as an “end run” around other land use policies like the comprehensive plan or zoning code. It’s explicitly stated in the ordinance (emphasis added):
“Design guidelines shall not be adopted or applied so as to prohibit uses allowed by the zoning code. Design guidelines regulating building bulk may be more restrictive than the zoning code when based upon the notable attributes, as identified in the conservation district’s study. Design guidelines shall be limited to regulating some or all exterior elements solely for the purpose of perpetuating and proliferating the district’s notable attributes, as identified in the district’s study.”