Transportation Legislation Threatens Section 4(f)

Posted on: October 27th, 2015 by Adam Jones 1 Comment


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Fort McHenry, a National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore, was once threatened by a highway project. However, the Section 4(f) review process ultimately led highway officials to drop the elevated bridge idea and instead build a tunnel under Baltimore Harbor – a project that came in on time and under budget. | Credit: 1flatworld via flickr creative commons

A preservation law that has protected the nation’s historic places from threats posed by transportation projects for nearly half a century is at risk as never before. On Thursday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee favorably reported a long-term transportation bill, the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 (H.R.3763), clearing the way for the bill to be voted on by the full House of Representatives. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has advocated fervently against a particular provision (Section 1301) in the bill that could significantly undermine the nation’s strongest preservation law, known as Section 4(f).

Section 4(f) was enacted in 1966 as part of the law to establish the Department of Transportation. Congress included this strong statutory safeguard to avoid destroying historic and other protected sites for construction of transportation projects. The language of Section 4(f) requires the preservation of a threatened historic site unless there is “no feasible and prudent alternative” and the project includes “all possible planning to minimize harm.” This statutory requirement has become an indispensable safeguard to protect our nation’s historic and cultural resources.... Read More →

About Adam Jones

Adam Jones is the associate director for Government Relations and Policy, at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Shared Use at Historic Sites: A Legal Perspective

Posted on: September 11th, 2015 by Paul W. Edmondson


The barn at Cooper-Molera Adobe. | Credit: National Trust for  Historic Preservation

The barn at Cooper-Molera Adobe. | Credit: National Trust for Historic Preservation

In her recent blog post on the concept of “shared use” at National Trust historic sites (“Shared Use in Action at Cooper-Molera Adobe,” August 20, 2015), Katherine Malone-France described how the National Trust is deeply involved in exploring how to bring compatible new uses—both commercial and nonprofit—to historic sites, house museums, and other historic properties in ways that attract new audiences and create new opportunities for public engagement. The concept, which goes much further than traditional accessory uses such as gift shops, visitor food service, or special events, essentially involves a collaboration between several users of a historic site, one of which is the principal nonprofit steward. Shared use may not be appropriate for every historic site, but for many sites facing challenges relating to visitation and financial self sufficiency—or which simply are looking for more creative and relevant ways to engage the public—the concept is definitely worth exploring.

Katherine’s summary of the National Trust’s work at Cooper-Molera Adobe in Monterey listed a number of questions and issues that should be considered by any organization considering a shared use model at its own historic site. Of course, fundamental issues such as compatibility of uses, stakeholder views, and financial feasibility must be considered at the outset. However, before going too far down the road in exploring shared use options, a number of legal questions need to be examined as well.

Threshold Question: Authority

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About Paul Edmondson

Paul W. Edmondson is the chief legal officer and general counsel of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Preservation through Vacant Property Receiverships

Posted on: September 8th, 2015 by Special Contributor 2 Comments


By Melanie Lacey

A home in Mt. Airy that was protected by a recievership. |Credit: Mt. Airy USA

A home in Mt. Airy that was protected by a conservatorship. |Credit: Mt. Airy USA

Despite the duration of their existence, “vacant property receivership” laws remain mysterious territory. These laws, by way of statute or ordinance, allow third parties to seek a temporary court appointment to rehabilitate blighted properties that are unoccupied. A property does not need to be designated as historic in order to qualify for receivership; however, receivership is a useful tool for the preservationist.

To qualify as a receiver, the third party files a lawsuit detailing how the property creates a public nuisance, and if the owner does not make repairs by a designated deadline, then the court may permit the third party to act in place of the owner. An appointed receiver must finance the rehabilitation project upfront by using company or personal funds, a line of credit, or grant funds, if available. All project expenses become a lien against the property. After completion, the receiver can recover those expenses by getting permission from the court to sell the property to itself or to a new party. At sale, the lien enjoys a priority status above pre-existing mortgages, and it is paid out of the sale proceeds. Any profit would come from a capped project management fee that is included as an expense.

A Receivership Project in Philadelphia’s Mount Airy Neighborhood

The Mount Airy neighborhood in northwest Philadelphia spans two centuries of architectural styles. Unfortunately, property abandonment appears in pockets, particularly on the neighborhood’s east side. In 2013 a local Community Development Corporation (“CDC”) endeavored to address this problem by using a state law called the Pennsylvania Blighted and Abandoned Property Conservatorship Act to rehabilitate a vacant single-family house.1 From inception to completion, the project lasted 19 months. Although this project did not involve a historic property, the logistics are very much transferable.... Read More →