The Murray Downtown Residential Historic District
Needs our protection
Throughout Utah, many cities and towns are facing the needless destruction of their treasured historic resources through demolition and insensitive alterations. We’ve experienced this tragedy first-hand through the tragic loss of our Murray First Ward and Carnegie Library in March 2020.
However, many cities and towns in Utah have taken steps to better protect their historic resources through the creation of a local historic district (LHD). By establishing a LHD in Murray, all proposed changes to exterior architectural features that are visible from a public way must be reviewed and approved by a local historic district commission. In this way, needless demolitions and alterations can be permanently prevented. Over XX cities and towns in Utah have already recognized the value of an LHD and have established one or more within their communities.
Murray’s Current Historic Listings
Murray currently has 3 federally recognized historic districts and 15 historic buildings. However, this list grows smaller every year. We have already lost 2 individual buildings on the list and several buildings located within those historic districts. If these buildings are listed as “historic,” why aren’t they already protected?
It is essential to know that are two kinds of historic districts in Utah: Local Historic Districts (LHD) and National Register Historic Districts (LRHD). Although an area may be designated as both an LHD and a LRHD, there are substantial differences between the two designations:
- The National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) is essentially a federal inventory of buildings, structures, sites, objects, and districts that are significant in our nation’s history, culture, architecture, or archaeology, and are deemed worthy of recognition and preservation. It is administered by the Secretary of the Interior through the Utah Historical Commission as the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).
- While a listing in the National Register provides formal recognition of a property’s significance, it does not place any restrictions or conditions on changes made by a private property owner.
- A Local Historic District (LHD) is established locally through a city council vote. It provides a regulatory review process for all changes to exterior architectural features visible from a public way.
Murray’s existing historic districts are listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), which means there are no protections in place. If a developer purchases property in these districts, they are easily able to demolish historic structures and build incompatible structures in their place, so long as it is approved according to existing zoning. If a homeowner wants to build a lime green 3-story tower attached to their red brick, 50’s ranch, there’s nothing to stop them.
HMFF Proposes to Make the Murray Downtown Residential Historic District into a Local Historic District (LHD)
The reason you received our mailer is because you currently live within this district. The location is roughly bounded by East 4800 South, East Clark Street, East Vine Street, and Center Street. This district is the best representative area of the residential settlement and development of the city of Murray. It was listed on the NRHP in 2005. I is locally significant as a physical reflection of its residential architecture and the historic development of the city from its agricultural beginnings through its industrial era and current status as a small suburban city. The buildings within the district represent the wide range of architectural styles and plans popular in the city and the state of Utah between 1870 and 1954 and retain a high degree of integrity.
Establishing this area as a Local Historic District (LHD), will provide the area with the strongest form of protection that can be given to historic properties. The purpose of an LHD is to:
- preserve and protect the distinctive characteristics of buildings and places significant in the history of Utah and its cities and towns.
- maintain and improve the settings of those buildings and places.
- encourage new designs compatible with existing buildings in the district.
The benefits of LHDs are many:
- They can be credited with saving the character of many areas in Utah.
- Provide protection from demolitions and inappropriate remodeling.
- Provide assurance that the historic built environment will be there for generations to enjoy.
- Provide a visual of the past.
- Create pride in the community.
- Create neighborhood stabilization.
Historic districts do not prevent all changes from occurring, nor do they prevent all demolition, new construction, or development. The intent is to make changes and additions harmonious, and prevent the intrustion of incongruous elements that might detract from the aesthetic and historic values of the district. The purpose of an LHD is not to halt growth, but to allow for thoughtful consideratioons of change.
Homeowner Benefits to Living in a Local Historic District
Maintain the character of a homeowner’s block and/or street
Property values are improved
Value of home sales are higher in LHDs than outside nearby homes
Reduced foreclosure risk
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The purpose of the guidelines is to make sure the character-defining features of a building are not altered. Keeping the original features of a historic home maintains the value of the home and the historic character of the district. The guidelines focus on key preservation principles:
- Respect the historic design character of the building
- Seek uses that are compatible with the historic character of the building
- Protect and maintain significant features and stylish elements
- Preserve any existing original site features or original building materials and features
- Repair deteriorated historic features and replace only those elements that cannot be repaired
Private property rights are among the most important rights enjoyed by Americans. They give us financial security and they help protect our personal investments. Precious as they are, our property rights are not absolute—they come with responsibilities. Communities routinely make investments and create land use policies that affect property rights and changes in property values for the greater good. Regulating teardowns is no different because they impact our quality of life and the property rights and investments of the people who have to live with the results. (Source: preservationnation.org)
Read more about how the concept of property rights has changed over time in this Introduction to Property Rights: A Historical Perspective from the University of Illinois Extension.
No. Local historic district designation does not require homeowners to restore or fix up their property.
The Murray Residential Downtown is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a National Register District. The National Register is primarily an honorary designation. Our Residential Downtown is only minimally protected from state or federally involved projects. By passing a local historic district, the historic character of our Residential Downtown will be much better protected.
Interior changes that do not affect the outside appearance are not reviewed.
[MUST VERIFY FOR MURRAY SPECIFICALLY. This information is from SLC] An application to create a new local historic district can be initiated by the Mayor, a majority of the City Council members, or a property owner with the support of 15% of the property owners within the proposed historic district. Support of property owners is demonstrated by signatures obtained by the applicant within a six-month time frame.
Once an application has been submitted to create a local historic district, ordinances establish the following steps:
- Public Outreach Process: The City Planning Staff conduct a public hearing outreach process to help property owners within the proposed local historic district understand what the regulations and benefits are to owning property within such a district.
- Public Hearing Process: The proposed historic district will be considered first by the City’s Historic Landmark Commission and then by the Planning Commission. Each commission will hold at least one public hearing before forwarding recommendations to the City Council.
- Public Support Ballot: Before the City Council considers the recommendations of the Historic Landmark and Planning Commissions, a public support ballot will be mailed to property owners for the designation of the historic district.
- City Council Consideration: Following the public support balloting, the City Council will hold at least one public hearing before deciding whether or not to designate a new local historic district. If a majority of the property owners who voted on the public support ballot process support the creation of a new district, the City Council may, by a majority vote, approve the district. If less than a majority of property owners who voted in the public support ballot process support the proposed district, the City Council may only approve the proposed district by a super-majority vote (five Council members).
Construction of garages and accessory structures will need to follow the same design review guidelines as houses and will be considered in the context of the home.
If my house is included in the local historic district, does that mean I have to make it look more historic?
No, you can maintain the current look of your house as long as you would like. A local historic district only reviews proposed changes to exterior architectural features. Routine maintenance of your house is exempt from review.
Loss of energy through single-pane glass is really the issue, so adding storm windows is a good solution. The most cost-effective energy conservation measures for most historic windows are to replace the glazing compound, repair the wood members if necessary (usually the frame will be structurally sound), and install weather stripping. Here’s a study on the value of window repair and retrofitting.
Exterior architectural features visible from a public way are reviewed. Interior changes, landscaping, maintenance, and exterior features not visible from a public way are not reviewed. Other exemptions can also be included in the bylaw.
Actually, the majority of energy loss is through a building’s roof—not windows—so attic insulation with an R-value of 38 or more is great for both old and new homes. Properly maintained old wood windows are generally better fitting with fewer areas for drafts, so while single-pane glass may be colder than double-paned, there is less heat loss in areas around the window. Paired with storm windows, historic wood windows can be more energy efficient than new windows. In most cases, the time it takes to realize the savings from replacement windows is often past the expected life of the window. For more information on preserving historic windows, read “Preservation Brief #9: Repair of Historic Wooden Windows.”
[NEED TO UPDATE FOR MURRAY. This is taken from another community.] A local bylaw describes specifically how the Board of Selectmen will make appointees to the Historic District Commission. In other communities in Utah, the historic district commission consists of members such as architects, realtors, residents, and property owners of the district.
In a local historic district, a COA is needed before a building permit can be issued. It would be required for work that physically changes the exterior appearance of the property, such as:
- Enclosing a porch
- Demolishing all or part of a structure
- Replacing windows and doors
- Installing siding or re-roofing
Homeowners have no restrictions on the colors they paint their homes.
[REVIEW FOR MURRAY SPECIFICALLY] Administrative reviews are conducted by a City planner and, depending on complexity, take about a week or two. More complex projects such as major additions will need to be reviewed by the Historic Landmark Commission at its monthly meeting.HLC applications in Salt Lake City were reviewed over a 12-month period to determine the percentage of requests for Certificates of Appropriateness (all requests for alterations, additions, new construction, demolition) that were approved administratively versus being considered by the Historic Landmark Commission. It was found that 93% of all HLC applications were approved administratively and 7% were forwarded to the Commission for a decision. Of applications that were forwarded to the commission, 91% of the requests were approved.
[NEED TO VERIFY SPECIFICALLY FOR MURRAY. This was taken from SLC] Yes, property owners are encouraged to design additions in keeping with their home’s architectural style and using compatible building materials. There should be delineations between the old structure and the new (these can be extremely subtle). Depending on the location of the addition, a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) could be handled through administrative review while a smaller portion of requests typically go to the HLC for review.
Every home has a level of uncertainty in a seismic event and seismic retrofitting is usually less expensive than demolishing a home. There are methods of reducing the risk of earthquake damage in historic homes, and if carefully planned and executed, these retrofitting techniques can upgrade the safety of the home while at the same time being sensitive to the historic fabric of the house. For information on seismic retrofitting, visit Utah State HIstory’s Bracing for the Big One and“Preservation Brief #41: The Seismic Retrofit of Historic Buildings” on the National Park Service page.
While it is true that an additional step is needed for some projects, the benefits of protecting the rich architectural heritage found in our Murray Residential Downtown outweigh this added step. Our Residential Downtown contains buildings over 100 years old. Without a local historic district, these gems that have lasted so long could be demolished or irreparably altered tomorrow.
Yes. Tax credits are already available to Murray Residential Downtown Historic District residents for qualifying home improvement projects because it is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). Federal guidelines must be followed—nearly the same guidelines that would be in place for the local historic district. This neighborhood currently has the highest number of applicants in Murray trying to capture those tax credits—proof that residents are willing to accept the guidelines. Information on theUtah Historic Preservation Tax Credit.
No one can predict the future but numerous studies around the country suggest that property values stay the same or increase faster in local historic districts compared to similar, non-designated areas. Studies also show that properties within historic districts tend to weather recessions and real estate bubbles better. A 2013 Utah-specific economic study shows property values in Salt Lake historic districts remained higher than those of the rest of the city.
One nationwide study found:
- Historic district designation typically increases residential property values by 5-35% per decade over the values in similar, undesignated neighborhoods.
- Both nationally designated historic districts and locally designated historic districts outperform similar, undesignated neighborhoods, but districts that carry both local and national designation experience the highest relative increases in property values.
- The values of newer properties within designated historic districts increase along with those of older properties.
- Local historic district designation decreases investor uncertainty and insulates property values from wild swings in the housing market.
In city planning preservation involves a wise use of resources, and includes sensitive stewardship, careful planning, and harmonious new development. Historic districts protect an area’s important historic qualities while allowing for change and new construction that accommodates today’s lifestyles.
If I and my neighbors already maintain the historic character of our properties, why do we need a local historic district?
By having a local historic district, you can be assured that a NEW property owner across the street from your house will also maintain the historic character of the Residential Downtown.
[INCLUDE HISTORY OR MURRAY’S PRESERVATION POLICY]
-Sound preservation codes, removal of codes, where we are today, etc….
This historic neighborhood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and there is a strong desire to preserve its integrity. With its proximity to Murray City Center District (MCCD), the neighborhood is threatened, as there have been several heritage structures demolished over the years. These heritage homes are irreplaceable, gone forever once demolished for a rebuild. Members of Historic Murray First Foundation have been working on preservation and compatibility issues since 2018.