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Working With Local Governments


The Farmington, Utah, City Museum (old city hall)

In 2008, the Farmington city council, planning commission, city staff and preservation commission worked together to craft a new and effective preservation ordinance that met everyone’s expectations and needs.

What created this unity? Alysa Revell has for years worked in behalf of preservation in Farmington. Here she shares some ideas for helping change attitudes:

Some ideas for working with Planning Commissions/City Councils:

    • Educate them. Do not assume that they know anything about preservation. Most public officials and citizens do not, and it is your first job to start at square one and teach them. Give them hard numbers and as many facts as possible. Let them know why lack of preservation/weak ordinances/whatever is a problem in their communities. Use pictures whenever possible. Before-and-afters are very helpful. (Note: for facts about the economic benefits of preservation, see the book Economics of Historic Preservation: A Community Leader’s Guide)
    • Assure them that you are not inventing the wheel. Provide examples from other cities around the country and state that have tackled similar problems successfully. Politicians are much more comfortable supporting a plan that has already worked somewhere else.
    • Present solutions, not just problems. Anyone can go to a governing body whining about what is wrong. The way to get a successful solution approved is to provide it. Be as detailed as possible. Provide cost estimates. Provide expert testimony (written or in person) to back you up.
    • Try to get members of both your city council and planning commission assigned to your preservation commission. This will help both groups keep in touch with what the other is doing and will usually give you at least one strong supporter at public hearings.
    • Create relationships with City Council and Planning Commission members. Attend any meetings to which you’re invited. Hold tours and socials and invite them. Offer to assist them on non-preservation projects that benefit the city (4th of July events, Holiday events, pioneer day events, special volunteer committees, etc…). Make sure your commission members are omnipresent as willing citizens when the city needs a hand. You’ll build a reputation for your commission as reliable, hardworking, and involved in the community.
    • Don’t get yourself or your commission labeled as crazies. This is important. If you are not viewed as reasonable, you will get nowhere. Be respectful, calm, prepared. Check your emotions at the door of any public hearing.