Historic Preservation Overview

Historic Preservation 

Cherry Trees on Court Street in BloomHistoric preservation is a conversation with our past about our future. It is a way for a community to examine and learn from its history, develop new understandings to share with the future, and provide the same opportunity to future generations. By preserving its built environment, a community enhances its identity and character. In doing so, it also protects a homeowner's property investments by ensuring that their neighbor's properties will be held to the same standards as theirs. Historic Preservation is done through:

  • Designating historic sites for protection: includes federal, state, and privately owned properties
  • Documentation: the written, photographic, technical, and oral recording and retelling of historic stories
  • Physical Preservation: includes stabilization (protecting as is), rehabilitation (adding to buildings), restoration (repairing), and reconstruction (rebuilding as it once was).

In Lynchburg, the main method of historic preservation is through the designation of historic sites and districts by local ordinance. Revitalizing historic residential areas of the city is an important goal of the Comprehensive Plan. The cultural value of historic areas makes Lynchburg uniquely different from other cities and one that people love to visit and live in.

The Start of Historic Preservation in Lynchburg

The City of Lynchburg initially enacted historic district legislation within its overall zoning ordinance in 1976, and established the Board of Historic & Architectural Review, now the Historic Preservation Commission, to monitor exterior changes to existing buildings, new construction, and demolition within historic districts.

The purpose of this historic zoning legislation was to:

  • Promote the health, happiness, and well-being of the public through the creation of historic districts for the protection and preservation of historic buildings, structures, places, archaeological sites, and areas of historic interest
  • Stabilize and improve property values
  • Stimulate the development and maintenance of appropriate settings and environment for historic buildings and structures
  • Encourage new buildings and developments that will be architecturally compatible with existing historic buildings and structures
  • Prevent the encroachment of additions or new buildings and structures that are architecturally incongruous within the environs of the historic districts
  • Advance local historic preservation efforts and encourage the identification and nomination of qualified historic properties and districts to the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.  

Men standing in front of Watts Store on Main Street circa 1890To further the goals of historic preservation, Lynchburg adopted and printed “Commercial Historic Districts Design Guidelines: Downtown Lynchburg,” in 1986. These design guidelines contained recommendations for rehabilitation and new construction in two state and national designated districts, Downtown and Lower Basin. Both the guidelines included within the previous manual and this revised edition are currently voluntary:  there are no historic overlays in Downtown which require review by the City’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC).

Historic Preservation in Lynchburg Today

Today, the community is working together to protect and maintain Lynchburg’s downtown historic buildings as a part of the City of Lynchburg Comprehensive Plan 2013-2030. The Plan, which is built upon multiple charrettes and community involvement, stresses the need to “ensure that future development, redevelopment, and public improvements complement the scale and character, and respect the integrity of, designated historic districts and areas potentially eligible for designation.” The plan further states that “Demolition of historic buildings and erection of suburban style, low-density/intensity development is inappropriate.” Property owners are encouraged to follow the recommendations included within this manual to ensure their land is the most valuable it can be and contributes to their neighborhood’s charm. The revised design guidelines manual was completed following extensive discussions and meetings with the property owners, HPC, City Staff, and representatives of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

View a short video: Understanding Lynchburg's Historic Districts

Historic Preservation Code Sections

Benefits of Historic Preservation

Image of the front of Amazement Square and the sculptures in front of itHistoric Preservation Promotes Quality of Life

Quality of life is one of the critical ingredients in economic development and the happiness of Lynchburg residents, and historic preservation is an important part of this equation for the following reasons:

  • More than any other man-made element, historic buildings differentiate one community from all others. It helps make Lynchburg, Lynchburg!
  • Many quality of life activities - museums, theaters, and libraries - are located in historic buildings and downtown areas. 
  • The quality of historic buildings and the quality of their preservation says much about a community's self-image. A community's commitment to itself is a prerequisite for nearly all quality-of-life elements. 
  • Any community can duplicate another's water lines, industrial parks, or tax rates. No community can duplicate another's historic resources. 

Historic Buildings May Last Longer Than New Ones

Rehabilitated historic buildings have a longer life expectancy than that of new structures. Many buildings constructed thirty to forty years have a need for rehabilitation but, unlike historic buildings, are not of high enough quality to justify refurbishment. Many buildings constructed today will likewise face the same rehabilitation problem in a few decades. Pre-1950s buildings that use conventional framing and masonry, however, have better joinery techniques than today's buildings and are more durable. 

Image of the buildings on Kemper StreetHistoric Preservation Support's Taxpayers' Investments

Allowing Downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods to decline is financially irresponsible because it wastes taxpayer's dollars. Every community has already made a huge investment in infrastructure such as sidewalks, lighting, water and sewer lines, telephone and electrical lines, gutters and curbs, and roads and streets. If this infrastructure is not used due to outward expansion and vacancies, the infrastructure already laid out goes to waste. Reusing historic buildings means reusing existing public infrastructure and ensuring that communities make good use of what already exists. 

Historic Preservation Creates Jobs

Rehabilitation and revitalization projects create thousands of construction jobs annually, and historic preservation creates more jobs than new construction because they are more labor intensive than new construction. In new construction, half of all expenditures are for labor and half are for materials. In a typical rehabilitation project, between 60 and 70 percent of the total cost goes towards labor. This stimulates the local economy because labor for preservation projects - carpenters, electricians, plumbers, sheet metal workers, painters - is mainly hired locally, and local wages are spent locally. In addition to construction, historic preservation also generates jobs for architects, accountants, attorneys, engineers, preservationists, and real estate brokers. The materials used in preservation projects are also much more likely to be purchased locally, whereas materials for new construction are often sourced from out-of-state and out-of-country. 

Fall foliage along the brick streetHistoric Preservation Increases Property Values

Studies from various Virginia communities have shown the trend that property values in historic districts rise faster than property values in the community as a whole. For example, between 1980 and 1990, assessments in Richmond's Shockoe Slip rose by 245% in contrast to the citywide increase of 8.9%. In Staunton, commercial properties outside of historic districts between 1987 and 1995 appreciated an average of 25.2%, while commercial properties within historic districts appreciated by average rates that ranged from 27.2% to 256.4%. Property value studies in Michigan and Tennessee also display property value increases in commercial historic districts. 

Tourism and Tax Credits 

Historic architecture attracts tourism such as heritage tourism, which centers around a city's historic features and is one of the most rapidly growing segments of the tourism industry. The quality and quantity of Lynchburg's historic architecture provide opportunities to enhance the city's tourism. Design guidelines encourage historic rehabilitation that is authentic and strengthens historic neighborhood charm. Historic buildings may qualify for tax credits. See below for more information on Grants, Loans, and Financial Incentives for historical preservation. 

Examples of Historic Preservation in Other Cities