Changes Proposed to National Register
On July 28, 2021, the National Park Service withdrew the proposed changes to the National Register of Historic Places that would have substantially impacted how historic resources are nominated and determined eligible.
These revisions would have implemented the 2016 Amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act establishing an unequal representation for large property owners to block historic district nominations even if a majority of property owners are in full support.
The Conservancy opposed this action as it would have severely undermined the effectiveness and purpose of the National Register, the nation’s leading tool to recognize the built environment and heritage of this country. These revisions were harmful and counterintuitive to historic preservation both in policy and in practice.
The rationale for implementing the 2016 revisions was unclear, as the National Register program has been a mainstay of the National Park Service’s work for more than fifty years. Limiting its use, application, and ability to help direct much-needed financial reinvestment (through Federal tax credits) into local communities is a mistake.
While the stated intent was to bring regulations current with recent amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), the revisions would have instead injected a great deal of mistrust and potential abuses into the National Register process, and unnecessarily politicize an otherwise effective tool.
Congress’s original intent for this long-standing program created an open and fair process allowing communities to directly participate and be represented in the identification and registry of historic places, afforded as part of the NHPA. The revisions would have established an unequal representation for large property owners and allow a single owner and/or Federal agency to block historic district nominations, even if a majority of property owners are fully in support.
The revisions called for replacing the current counting of one vote per property owner. Changing the rules for owner objections to nominations will jeopardize the listing of new historic districts. Because most projects using historic tax credits occur in National Register historic districts, a lack of new historic districts would have restricted the use of historic tax credits.
The proposed revisions essentially granted Federal agencies veto authority over listing properties whereby they can object and block a National Register listing for any reason. This will then directly undermine other processes and protections afforded through the NHPA, including Section 106. Determinations of eligibility for listing in the National Register are the primary vehicle for considering whether a property is worthy of consideration under Section 106.
Under the proposed changes the federal agency, not the Keeper of the National Register, would have the ultimate say on the eligibility of a property under its jurisdiction, thereby preventing consultation on a project. This would have also eliminated any appeal process if all decisions rest with federal agencies that are generally not equipped and/or qualified to take on this level of expertise and role.
Given the potential adverse impacts of these proposed revisions on current and future generations, the Conservancy strongly recommended a thorough vetting process and consultation with various preservation partners before proceeding further.
The National Park Service should fully engage national, state, and local preservation agencies, especially state historic preservation officers (SHPO) and tribes, and work collaboratively to assess the purpose and need for these wide-sweeping revisions.