Last night I chaired a hearing to evaluate the historical significance of a batch of properties in Montgomery County. Designating these properties means placing them in the County’s Master Plan for Historic Preservation and subjecting them to regulatory review by the Historic Preservation Commission. Although advocates for historic preservation are heavily invested in increasing the population of things we call “historic,” I wonder where academic dialogue ends and pragmatism begins. What are the historic preservation objectives of preserving vernacular properties with debatable historical associations and questionable architectural integrity? Is it in the public interest to spend precious public resources to make a case for historical significance where little exists? What are the public benefits of subjecting property owners to regulatory compliance? And what are the benefits to taxpayers who must pay for the regulatory program, from the actual designation process through each future historic area work permit applied for by property owners?
The hearing was a challenge and the debate will continue in future worksessions. In December I read a blog post on historic property designation — “Local Landmarking v2.0 – Are Historic Preservation’s Glory Days of Local Landmarking Winding Down?” — that resonated throughout last night’s hearing. The hearing record posted at the County’s historic preservation office Web site will continue to grow as the public record remains open until February 16 after which the debate will continue.