Acronyms abound in our society. We use them all the time in every occupation, organization, and business. But if you don't know what the letters stand for you may be left scratching your head. In this case CLG, HDC, and COA all have to do with the same issue – historic preservation. Let me explain.
Acronyms abound in our society. We use them all the time in every occupation, organization, and business. But if you don’t know what the letters stand for you may be left scratching your head. In this case CLG, HDC, and COA all have to do with the same issue – historic preservation. Let me explain.
A Certified Local Government (CLG) program represents a partnership between the National Park Service (NPS), the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program (AHPP) and local governments to preserve historic resources at the local level. There are currently 19 Arkansas cities in the CLG program. Helena was originally certified in 1986, and was recertified in 2007 after the merger of Helena and West Helena.
In order to participate in the CLG program a city must appoint a Historic District Commission (HDC) and pass a local preservation ordinance designating one or more local historic districts. In our case the local ordinance covers the Cherry Street District, our only commercial historic district. While Helena has two residential historic districts, the Perry Street and Beech Street districts, they are not included in the ordinance.
So, what does the HDC do? An HDC is a board comprised of 5-9 citizens (in our case, 9) appointed by the major or chief elected official. Some of the goals are to encourage historic preservation, provide technical assistance to citizens as it relates to historic preservation, approve applications for Certificates of Appropriateness (COA) in designated districts, maintain an inventory of historic properties, and participate in nominating properties to the National Register of Historic Places.
There are several advantages to being a CLG. A local preservation ordinance helps to preserve the visual characteristics of a historic neighborhood while providing a framework for redevelopment. By joining the CLG program a city gains access to an enhanced partnership with AHPP and NPS, including training, technical support, and grant assistance.
By law at least 10 percent of the AHPP’s annual federal appropriations must be distributed in the form of CLG grants. These grants can be used for staff and commissioner training, National Register nominations, surveys of other districts, and special projects. Grants have often been used as seed money to attract funding from local governments or other sources.
The CLG program provides a means for planning and considering historic preservation in land use and improvement and development decisions. It is also a tool for educating the community about the advantages of historic preservation.
The HDC is charged with protecting the unique character of the Historic District. In a locally designated historic district, most exterior work must first receive a COA before any changes are made to a property. The HDC reviews all additions, demolitions, new construction, signage, change of color, and rehabilitation and restoration projects. COAs allow the HDC to ensure that changes do not diminish the historic integrity of the area. Work done without a COA can result in fines and/or removal of the unauthorized alteration.
Locally, there has been some confusion about the roles of the HDC and Main Street Helena (MSH). The HDC is only concerned with the exterior of the buildings. They have nothing to say about what sort of business goes in, or what the interior looks like. MSH, on the other hand, is all about getting people downtown, whether it is to shop, eat, or play. Ideally, the HDC and MSH should work hand in hand. The HDC should work to preserve the very buildings which will eventually be occupied by businesses recruited by MSH.
Many people think of the HDC as the “bad guy”, the people who are going to tell you what to do with your own building. That is not the case. The HDC exists to preserve the integrity of the downtown. A common misconception is that the HDC requires property owners to take the exterior back to the original façade. What the HDC is looking for is an “appropriate” design, something that fits with the old without destroying the character of the downtown.
So, why is this important? Helena’s historic downtown is one of our major tourist attractions. Even with all the buildings we’ve lost, Helena has more architecturally significant building stock than most towns or cities in Arkansas. Tourism development is a major component of our local economic development strategy. We need to do everything we can to preserve one of our greatest assets.