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Standing architectural sites are dealt with a little differently in the compliance process.  Often the amount of historic documentation is limited and sites are evaluated using National Register Criterion C, focusing on the site’s "distinctive characteristics." Key to this concept is the issue of integrity. This means that the property needs to have retained, essentially intact, its physical identity from the historic period.

Particular attention is often given to the integrity of design, workmanship, and materials. Design includes the organization of space, proportion, scale, technology, ornamentation, and materials. As  one National Register bulletin observes, "Recognizability of a property, or the ability of a property to convey its significance, depends largely upon the degree to which the design of the property is intact."  Workmanship is evidence of the artisan’s labor and skill and can apply to either the entire property or to specific features of the property. Finally, materials — the physical items used on and in the property — are also very important. Integrity here is reflected by maintenance of the original material and avoidance of replacement materials.

Perhaps more complex than assessing the eligibility of the architectural sites is evaluating the affect of the proposed undertaking. The effect on archaeological resources is relatively clear since we have traditionally focused on primary or direct effects — either the archaeological site will be within the project area and will be damaged or it isn’t. In the case of historic resources such as buildings and cemeteries, often the more significant issue is whether there will be some level of visual intrusion.

As one organization has noted, transmission towers may be opposed because they loom over streets, homes, and landscapes. Other projects may be opposed since they are thought to detract from the experience of nearby historic sites or properties. As a result, for eligible properties it is often necessary to determine if the viewshed will be affected.

For example, using a transmission line corridor as an example, its affect on National Register or register-eligible properties is evaluated by conducting a careful assessment.

  • What is the nature of the existing landscape?
    • Does the area have a distinctive character (for example, the classic tourist imagery of the low country with moss draped live oaks)?
    • Is there already a transitional landscape (for example, a transition between an existing industrial area and a more rural landscape)?
  • What is the visibility of the project area and the sensitivity to development?
    • Is the project area not strongly visible or entirely screened?
    • Are the intrusive elements essentially invisible (such as transmission wires or small towers)?
    • Is there limited frontage?
    • Will the project "box in" the historic property? If so the impacts will be much stronger.
  • What is the existing visual character of the property?
    • Flat, rolling?
    • What is the scale of the existing buildings?
    • To some extent any change is unwelcome to some residents and land owners; however, dramatic change is most likely to be a problem.
    • If already a transition area, are additional impacts to be anticipated, regardless of the project being reviewed?

Clearly quantification of this visual intrusion, regardless of the questions asked, is far from precise — what seems "looming" to one person can be entirely undisturbing to another and vice versa. Nevertheless, we believe that this begins to provide some quantification to an otherwise difficult issue.

Mitigation measures are not quite as difficult to address and there are a range to select from, depending on the nature of the project and its potential impact to the landscape:

  • Set the facility (plant site, for example) as far back from the road (or historic properties) as possible -- this allows immediate perspective diminution. It may also allow screening and background scale to be provided by other nearby features.
  • Set the tallest and most solid element back the furthest.
  • Provide for, or accentuate, other sightlines.
  • Retain as many trees as possible.
  • Where shielding is necessary, consider both vegetation and earthen birms. Where vegetation is used, consider fast growing but short-term species, to be replaced by longer-term species identified in liaison with local residents.
  • Consider plantings that are low maintenance. This, for example, will help reduce the need to periodically bush hog power line easements.
  • Incorporate as much naturalistic screening as possible.
  • Use muted colors on all structures, including fences.

The process for evaluating intrusive elements may not be well established, but this brief overview should indicate that there are techniques (many from landscape architecture) that allow a fairer and more consistent appraisal. Contact Chicora Foundation for additional information on how we can help your project.


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