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The following information is provided by the Cultural Resource Division of the Kansas State Historical Society.
Kansas Historic Preservation Law
What Every Local Government Should Know
On the morning of March 23, 1988, the citizens of Herington, Kansas awoke to find all that remained of their historic limestone depot was scattered heaps of stone and wood. The reduction of the solid structure to a pile of rubble was due not to forces of nature, but to the pre-dawn demolition of the building ordered by the owner St. Louis Southwestern Railway. The only penalty the company faced for destroying the state register property was a $299 local fine for failing to obtain a permit. The railroad's success in avoiding review by the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) of the demolition by neglecting to apply for a demolition permit brought the Kansas preservation law to the forefront of discussion among preservationists, elected officials and concerned citizens. The event and the ensuing public outrage spurred the enactment of an amendment establishing penalties up to $25,000 for failing to obtain the required building permit before pursuing a project that would "encroach upon, damage or destroy any historic property included in the national register of historic places or the state register of historic places, or the environs of such property...."
More than a decade after that amendment, there is still much confusion about the Kansas historic preservation law. In July, 1999, a property owner in a Kansas community began demolishing the houses surrounding his business without obtaining the required local demolition permit. Because the houses were located within the environs of a national register property the owner is subject to penalties up to $25,000. Property owners are not the only Kansans who are uninformed about preservation law. Many local governments are also unaware of the responsibilities the law places on local building officials. The goal of this article is to dispel misconceptions and provide local governments and building officials with the information they need to successfully comply with the Kansas Historic Preservation Act.
Brief History of Kansas Preservation Act
The Kansas Preservation Act was originally enacted in 1977. The initial legislation declared historic preservation the policy of the state and required the activities of governmental entities which encroached on national or state register properties to be reviewed by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). In 1981 lawmakers widened the law to require review of all projects involving national and state register properties and their environs which needed local building permits. Thus, projects undertaken by individuals, firms, associations, organizations, partnerships, businesses, trusts, corporations or companies became subject to review if they required permits. A 1988 amendment further defined the "environs" of historic properties, requiring that the SHPO receive notice of any proposed project within 500 feet of a listed historic property located within the corporate limits of a city or within 1000 feet of a listed historic property located in the unincorporated portion of a county.
Submitting a Review
It is the responsibility of the local building official or staff person who issues building permits to initiate the review of projects on historic properties or their environs. The most convenient way of ensuring compliance with the law is to post in the permit office a map on which all national and state register properties and their environs are clearly marked. (You may receive a list of all registered properties in your community by contacting the state historic preservation office.) Many communities superimpose environs markings onto GIS maps, enabling building officials to quickly determine whether a project will affect a historic property or its environs.
If the project does occur within the environs of a listed property, the state office must be notified. In most governmental entities the responsibility of notification belongs to the building officials. Others place the responsibility of notification on the person seeking the permit. Regardless of who submits the request, it should include the following information: a letter requesting the preservation office's comments on the proposed project in accordance with K.S.A. 75-2724, a written description of the work to be done, the address and legal description of the property, photographs of the property and its environs including, in the case of a property in environs, the relationship between the listed building and the project property. Requests for larger projects, such as additions to historic properties, should also include architectural drawings and specifications. Interiors of buildings in the environs of historic properties are not subject to review.
The State Review Process and Response
The historic preservation office reviews projects on National Register properties using the Secretary of Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation. It reviews projects within the environs of historic properties (State or National Register) using Standards and Guidelines for Evaluating the Effect of Projects on Environs . The process is detailed in K. A. R. 118-3-1 through 118-3-16.
Although the state office has thirty days to return its findings to the contact person, it usually responds within a week. If the reviewer needs more information about the project in order to respond, he or she may request additional information. He or she may also visit the site. If the reviewer finds that the project will not "encroach upon, damage, or destroy" a historic property or its environs, the project may proceed.
If the reviewer finds that a project does not comply with the Secretary of Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation or Standards and Guidelines for Evaluating the Effect of Projects on Environs, he or she has two choices. He or she may include suggestions about project modifications which would meet the standards. If conditions toward meeting the standards are not met, the reviewer may issue a letter stating that the project will "encroach upon, damage, or destroy" a historic property or its environs.
If the reviewer determines that a project will "encroach upon, damage, or destroy" a historic property, the project cannot proceed unless the governing body determines that no feasible or prudent alternative to the project exists and that the project contains provisions to minimize damage to historic properties. In the case of projects requiring a local building permit, the governing body is the city commission/council. Any person who is dissatisfied with the ruling by the governing body may appeal to the district court.
The purpose of the Kansas state historic preservation law is to protect the state's historical and architectural treasures. The State Historic Preservation Office therefore believes that it is important that local governments understand and adhere to the law. If you have any questions concerning the Kansas historic preservation law, please contact the historic preservation office at (785) 272-8681 ext. 240.