Historic Resources

Impact of development

Historic resources are being lost due to development; development attracted by economic stability, quality of life, and the significant remaining historic resources in Chester County.

Chester County is fortunate to have many historic resources intact. Chester County is second in Pennsylvania only to Philadelphia in the number of resources listed on the National Register of Historic Places. However, with anticipated development and influx of population; there will be continued pressure on those remaining resources. The county's resources and character are the very factors contributing to attracting additional development. With increasing property values in the county, local governments struggle to maintain a balance between preserving private property rights and preserving historic resources.

Loss of historic contexts

Historic preservation is not linked to open space and other preservation advocacy.

There is a lack of a connection between open space preservation and historic preservation. However, open space is the context for many historic resources in the county and helps tell the story of that resource. Without maintaining its surrounding landscape context, buildings and structures lose much of their historic meaning. As a result, the county loses some of its quality of life and character. Likewise, natural resources are often linked to historic resources. These entities are not coordinated when it comes to their protection. Many historic preservation regulations are geared to the resource itself and not its "context", which is the historic landscape surrounding a resource. Historic context contributes to the ultimate vitality of not only resources themselves, but also to the county's character, desirability, and quality of life as a whole.

Loss of historic villages

Rural crossroads are increasingly being developed with little regard for their historic resources.

Historic rural resources, which are the foundation of Chester County's villages and crossroads, are being demolished to make way for development. These resources are also important to the larger community and region. If these resources and their village contexts are not maintained, an important aspect of the community's and county's sense of place and character will be lost forever.

Economic viability

Changing needs, types, and uses of buildings may make it difficult to maintain historic buildings.

Continued economic viability of buildings is key to successful historic preservation. Historic preservation needs to be economically feasible.

Because of the increased value of land and the desirability of building in Chester County, existing older and historic buildings are being demolished and replaced by larger more expensive and modern buildings. This phenomena, called 'tear downs,' questions the economic and physical viability of older structures given modern demands, uses, spatial requirements, and needs. As seen time and time again across the county, it is not considered as economically viable for an owner or developer to invest in an historic rehabilitation or conversion. Purchasing and renovating an older building is often more expensive than buying and maintaining a new building. It can be difficult to convince people to choose the more expensive, time consuming, and potentially less profitable road of historic preservation.

Lack of funding

Relative to other types of preservation, there is limited funding for historic preservation projects.

Historic preservation projects ultimately involve rehabilitation of buildings and/or structures, which is an expensive undertaking. However, there is limited funding or other incentives (e.g. tax credits) for historic preservation, re-use, or rehabilitation. As compared to open space preservation, funding for historic preservation is still not widely advocated or accepted by the public. In particular, there is no assistance, other than under HUD grants and loans for lower income areas, for private homeowners of historic properties. Additionally, funding for historic building façade easements is extremely limited and due to this and maintenance costs and enforcement issues, many conservation organizations will not accept façade easements. The Chester County Historic Preservation Network and other preservation groups have limited resources for providing support, advocacy, and education.

Greater awareness/education

There are misconceptions about historic preservation tools.

There remains a lack of understanding about historic resource protection issues, mechanisms, and tools by the public, local officials, and decision makers. The public often gets involved in trying to preserve a resource when it's too late in the process. Preservation needs to be economically viable to succeed. This point is not widely understood.

While there is need for ongoing education, constantly changing local officials, few volunteers (with high member turnover), and limited staff and funding make the education process challenging.

Competing local priorities

In competition with other local planning goals, implementation of historic preservation is not necessarily a priority.

There are many important competing planning goals at the local level. Historic preservation may be at odds with other planning goals, priorities, or regulations. Given other municipal basic safety oriented priorities (such as provision of community services, maintaining the roadway system, meeting requirements for utilities and infrastructure); preservation may not be a local priority at all.

The governmental structure in Pennsylvania results in small communities with limited funding and volunteers trying to tackle expensive, time consuming preservation issues and projects. Factors such as limited historic preservation expertise, staffing and tools at the municipal level, lack of broad based public support for historic preservation as a municipal priority, and the conflict that arises over private property rights vs. preserving historic resources, create a struggle for municipal officials wanting to implement historic preservation plans.

Historical commissions are the cornerstone for successful preservation at the local level in the county. However, they are sometimes not included in the development process or their recommendations are not taken into account by decision makers, which make historic preservation planning and implementation difficult.

Additionally, historic preservation regulations may not be enough on their own; other incentives or tools may be needed for successful historic preservation.

Lack of comprehensive historic resource surveys

A lack of complete and consistent historic resource surveys throughout the county make protection efforts more difficult.

Most Chester County municipalities participated in the Chester County Historic Sites Survey (1970's and 80's). This was a preliminary inventory list of resources in the county. This inventory generally included resources 50 years or older. An historic resource inventory is critical information that defines what resources remain and why they are important. Those parties involved in preservation rely on a survey as the groundwork for their preservation efforts to determine what to preserve and why. While crucial to a preservation planning program, surveys are time and labor consuming and knowledge base intensive to prepare. This creates another challenge for most municipalities which have limited staff, volunteers, expertise, and funding. Another key issue related to the importance of a comprehensive historic resource survey is that there are significant pre-1850 historical resources that are important to Chester County's history that do not always meet the standards of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. These resources are not being recognized for their importance to Chester County.