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Local Programs

The legal power to protect historic resources in Kentucky rests primarily with local governments. Many persons wrongly assume that the federal and state government protects historic resources and that listing in the National Register of Historic Places prevents demolition of historic resources.

That is why it is so important that citizens concerned about the preservation of historic resources in their communities give serious consideration to adopting a local historic preservation program. Irreplaceable historic and prehistoric sites are lost forever when local governments and individual citizens fail to recognize the historic significance of these resources and their valuable contribution to the distinctive character of the community.

The emphasis is on “Historic and Architectural Zoning for Contemporary Use” to enable planners, developers, architects, historians, land owners, and citizens to derive a sense of protection yet still retain the structures as vital, functioning parts of the community.
The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) assists local governments with the design and implementation of preservation programs.  The success of a local historic preservation program, however, depends entirely upon local citizens transforming themselves from grass-roots advocates to preservation activists.

Effective local government preservation programs have several common components.  While adoption of any one of these activities is beneficial to a community, the most successful local preservation programs have adopted all of these activities and incorporated them into their overall plans to enhance the quality of life for their community.

  • A survey of historic and prehistoric resources.
  • Preservation planning.
  • A historic preservation ordinance.
  • Public education.

Local governments that have developed an effective preservation program and that meet certain qualifications can apply to become Certified Local Governments (CLGs).  The SHPO can provide technical assistance to help communities develop and maintain successful preservation programs. Information regarding preservation planning is also available through the National Park Service Historic Preservation Planning ProgramExternal Link - You are now leaving the .gov domain.
Another source of information for local preservation programs is the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions [External Link - You are now leaving the .gov domain.], a membership organization for persons and entities seeking to promote the activities of preservation commissions.

To develop any effective plan, it is essential to know what historic resources are found in your community.  Kentuckians have long shared the sentiment that such resources have value and should be retained as functional parts of modern life as they give a community or neighborhood its special character and cultural depth. Historic resources can also contain information that provides unique insight into a community's past, and help answer broad questions about history and prehistory.

A survey will help you identify and evaluate historic resources. A survey serves as a permanent written and photographic record of all known historic buildings, structures, and sites in the community (surveys of landscapes and archaeological sites may also be included). A survey provides:

  • A record of physical characteristics, historic accounts, and locations of historic sites.
  • A basis for making sound judgments in community planning for historic resources.
  • Data for use in the publication of local architectural and cultural histories.
  • Assistance in evaluating and determining eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places.

For more information concerning individual or comprehensive surveys, click here for more information about the Heritage Council’s Historic Buildings Survey program or contact Bill Macintire, survey coordinator.

See also National Register Bulletin #24, Guidelines for Local Surveys: A Basis for Preservation Planning. External Link - You are now leaving the .gov domain.

Historic Preservation Ordinances

Many Kentucky communities have decided they want to keep the look and feel of the place they call “home” by adopting a local preservation ordinance and creating a local preservation commission to administer it. A preservation ordinance can protect historic properties by officially recognizing historic areas as local historic districts. An overlay zone adds a second layer of design element regulation to the underlying use regulation of properties in those districts.

Legal Obligations

  • An ordinance must promote a valid public purpose.
  • An ordinance cannot deprive a property owner of all reasonable economic use.
  • An ordinance must honor a citizen’s constitutional right to a fair hearing, due notice, and a rational procedure.
  • An ordinance must comply with all relevant state laws.

Owners of properties in locally designated areas get approval from a locally appointed commission for exterior changes, additions, new construction, and relocation or demolition, so that changes complement the historic appearance of the building and the area.  This approval process is called design review. The presence of a preservation ordinance does not prevent change; rather it encourages appropriate alterations and new construction that fits in with the existing buildings.   Not only does the ordinance protect the historic properties, but studies have also shown that owners in protected districts have seen the value of their investments increase. 

Kentucky statutes provide several sources of authorization for historic districting, but the statutes do not set forth a detailed framework for an ordinance. Preservation ordinances vary from community to community as ordinances are generally tailored to meet the individual needs of the community and the resources being protected. The scope of regulatory authority also varies depending on such factors as community support and the relationship between the preservation commission and other government agencies. 

State Law 
Kentucky state law allows communities to pass ordinances to protect historic resources:

  • When all the elements of a comprehensive plan have been adopted, then local legislative bodies in Kentucky may institute permanent land use regulations, including zoning and growth management regulations “to facilitate orderly and harmonious development and the visual and historic character” of their jurisdictions (KRS 100.201(2)).
  • Kentucky state law allows communities to pass zoning ordinances to protect and regulate districts of special interest to the proper development of a community such as historic and architecturally valuable districts and neighborhoods (KRS 100.203(1)(e)), as well as places having “unique interest or value” or  “special character or use affecting or affected by their surroundings” (KRS 100.203(1)(g)).

A note of caution, Kentucky state law requires “owner consent” before a county may pass an ordinance to protect a historic resource.

  • In Kentucky counties, fiscal courts are vested with the power to enact ordinances concerning planning, zoning, and subdivision control, as well as preservation of historic structures (KRS 67.083(3)(k) and 67.083(3)(y)).
  • Unlike cities in Kentucky, a county must obtain the voluntary written consent of the owner prior to exercising any controls concerning preservation of the historic structure. In addition, the county must advise the owner of the historic resources about advantages and disadvantages of the county’s action to preserve the historic structure. (KRS 67.083(9))

Key Components
Preservation ordinances generally consist of at least five key components.

  • Establishment of and powers given to a historic preservation commission or other administrative board.
  • Criteria and procedures for designation of historic districts and/or landmarks (landmarks normally involve only a single site or structure as opposed to a designated area).
  • Criteria and procedures for reviewing requests to alter, move, or demolish properties.
  • Standards and procedures for consideration of hardships and other issues of special concern
    A process for appeal and enforcement of its terms.

The SHPO maintains sample preservation ordinances from other communities, and offers training for members of preservation commissions. CLGs may apply for grants to create or update design guidelines, or provide training. 


  • Provides a municipal policy for the protection of historic properties.
  • Establishes an objective and democratic process for designating historic properties.
  • Protects the investments of owners and residents of historic properties by stabilizing declining neighborhoods and enhancing property values.
  • Encourages better quality design
    Helps the environment by encouraging conservation of valuable resources through adaptive reuse of historic structures and discourages decentralization of a city’s infrastructure.
  • Promotes education and community pride
    Promotes tourism.
  • Enhances business recruitment potential
    Benefits the social and psychological well-being of the citizens.
  • Allows citizens to take part in deciding the future of their community.
Public Education

Public education is perhaps the single most important component to developing and maintaining a local government preservation program. The goals for public participation should include:

  • Provide the public with information so they can understand the process, the issues, and the values, and can participate effectively.
  • Provide full opportunities for the public to share their views and to influence the outcome of the planning process.
  • Build consensus and public support for the vision and goals of the plan and of the entity charged with developing and implementing the plan.
  • Ensure that the planning effort addresses issues of importance to those affected by the plan.
  • Raise awareness of historic sites in the community and instruct owners as to proper maintenance techniques for historic sites using standards established by the Secretary of the Interior.
  • Promote the benefits, especially economic, of historic preservation.


Last Updated 9/13/2013