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Governmental Landmarking of Heritage Sites

Paragraph 2512.7 of The Book of Discipline, 2012, requires a conference Board of Trustees to have a policy about heritage sites receiving landmark status by a government agency. Conferences may or may not have developed such a policy. The following policy was developed by the West Ohio Conference and it is placed here as a sample and with permission. This does not effect the designation of a site as a conference Historic Site or Heritage Landmark. These are United Methodist designations. The General Commission does not control decisions of a site in any way. However, if significant changes are made, the site can be de-designated as a Heritage Landmark. See the guidelines below:

There is a provision in The Book of Discipline for reclassification of a Heritage Landmark. There are at least three circumstances which could lead the General Commission to recommend such a step to the General Conference:

  1. A Heritage Landmark's physical structure is changed in a way that irrevocably damages its historical authenticity.
  2. The owners deliberately and permanently deny public access to the Heritage Landmark.
  3. It is discovered that the Heritage Landmark does not have the historical significance originally claimed for it.

The General Commission offers the following guidelines regarding changes to the physical structure of a Heritage Landmark:

  1. The change should not significantly alter the appearance (and thus the authenticity) of the Heritage Landmark.
  2. Any restoration or repair work should be historical sensitive (for example, in the choice of paint colors). The General Commission objects to using unauthentic materials in restoration and repair work.
  3. No ancillary buildings (restrooms, visitor's center, etc.) should be built so as to affect the Heritage Landmark's appearance on its site. Sensitivity should also be used regarding plantings; for example, trees should not be planted so that they will eventually obscure the structure.

 

Sample Annual Conference Landmark Designation Policy:

WEST OHIO CONFERENCE

Landmark Designation Policy

This policy is established pursuant to the 2008 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church as follows:

“Establishment of Annual Conference Policy with Regard to Governmental Efforts to Designate Church-Owned Property as Landmarks – The board, after consultation with the conference commission on archives and history, or alternate structure, shall develop a policy for an annual conference response, on behalf of any local church, church-related agency, or district or annual conference board of trustees located within the bounds of the annual conference, to any governmental effort to designate a property held in trust for the benefit of The United Methodist Church (¶ 2501) by any such board of trustees as a cultural, historical or architectural landmark.” (¶2512.7 of the 2008 Book Of Discipline)

WHEREAS, the Conference Board of Trustees is the designated agency to intervene and take all necessary legal steps to safeguard and protect the interests and rights of the Annual Conference anywhere and in all matters relating to property and rights of property of any of its local churches and church-related agencies. (2008 Book of Discipline ¶¶2501, 2512.4)

WHEREAS, landmark designation of property by a public or governmental body, or other non-profit organization may well serve important cultural, historical, architectural or other community purposes, but it may also substantially restrain the use, transformation and transferability of any church-owned property so designated. Whether voluntary or involuntary on the part of the church property owner, landmarking thus results in a transfer or sale of property under The Book Of Discipline.

WHEREAS, the Conference Commission on Archives and History has been duly consulted.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT, at the earliest opportunity following notification or receipt of information that voluntary or involuntary landmarking efforts may affect its property, a local church or church-related agency in the West Ohio Conference shall notify the Conference Treasurer or Conference Chancellor, who in turn shall notify the resident Bishop and the District Superintendent in whose district the property is located.

If the local church or church-related agency desires to cooperate voluntarily with landmarking its property, the church or agency shall obtain an approval vote of the Conference Board of Trustees who shall confer with the Bishop prior to or during its deliberations. The local church or agency shall then comply with the provisions on sale or transfer of property (as applicable) of The Book Of Discipline, including the convening of any required meeting or charge conference.

In the event of efforts to landmark involuntarily property owned by a local church or church-related agency, the Conference Board of Trustees may in their discretion assist local churches and church-related agencies in responding to such efforts, and may intervene and take such measures as appropriate to protect the interests of The United Methodist Church in the property in question.

General Overview of Landmark Designation:

Generally speaking, landmark designation seeks to preserve some historic, cultural, architectural or other similar aspect of a building or defined geographical area. Government bodies and non-profit organizations at the federal, state and local levels are involved in these efforts.

Landmarking can be voluntary or involuntary on the part of the property owner. A typical example of voluntary landmarking is when a government body and a property owner agree to preserve some architectural façade or historic feature of a building. The owner agrees to a perpetual easement restricting future use and development rights on the building and property in exchange for the governmental body’s payment of money and extension of tax credits to the owner.

Involuntary landmarking typically occurs at the state and local level when a government body designates a defined geographical area as a historic or cultural district. The restrictions on the property vary from district to district, and compliance with the restrictions can be voluntary or mandatory. In all cases, the decision on whether to permit a use or expansion request is beyond the control of the property owner. There may be tax incentives for a property’s location within a district.

Property owners may feel that landmark designation is an honor, or that a historic district or neighborhood is a positive part of urban life. However, as a practical matter, there may be many negatives to landmarking. Chief among these are the scope and nature of the restraints on use, transformation and transferability of the property.

The Legal Department of the General Council on Finance and Administration generally advises against voluntary landmarking of property owned by local churches or church-related agencies.

“In summary, church organizations need to be extremely careful before making any decision that its property would be enhanced in any way by landmark status. Landmark status may be desirable in certain limited circumstances. However, landmark status can drastically limit the availability and allocation of resources and severely restrict a church’s freedom to make its own decisions about important issues, including how it practices its faith.” (GCFA Legal Manual, V-March 18, March 2005.)

From the standpoint of property owned in trust for The United Methodist Church, landmarking may very well prevent a local church from transforming the donations given in the past into new structures or establishments for United Methodist use or enjoyment in the future. Further, the tax benefits available to private property owners are generally worthless to a church since a church does not usually pay income or real estate taxes.

Certainly, each landmarking effort needs to be assessed on its own merits, and there may be instances where landmarking is in the best interests of both the public and the church organization. However, generally speaking, landmark designation should be discouraged.