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In 1951 the Georgia General Assembly established the Georgia Historical Commission to be the public agency charged with acquiring, promoting, and protecting heritage resources. After the U.S. Congress passed the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the commission acquired a partnership role in the administration of federal preservation laws and programs. Through subsequent legislative and administrative changes, the Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has assumed the role of primary state preservation agency, with both federal and state responsibilities.
Both planning and environmental laws have played a role in preserving the state's heritage. The Georgia Planning Act of 1989 placed Georgia among the first states to require inclusion of historic resources along with other planning elements in local, regional, and state comprehensive plans. Two years later the state legislature enacted the Georgia Environmental Policy Act, which regulated state governmental actions affecting heritage resources by establishing a review and comment process for proposed projects. The State Agency Historic Property Stewardship Program of 1998 went a step further by mandating that agencies identify and manage their historic properties according to statewide standards, and that they acquire and use space in significant buildings.
The buildings in which laws are made and applied have also received legislative attention. Courthouses constructed before 1905 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places may not be demolished without voter approval, and the Commission on the Preservation of the State Capitol has been established.
Enabling legislation for local governments has been another key component of the legal framework. The Georgia Historic Preservation Act of 1980 authorizes cities and counties to enact ordinances to create historic preservation commissions and to designate historic structures and districts. Alteration, new construction, and demolition of designated properties may be regulated. More than eighty Georgia communities have taken advantage of this act. Local governments have also been given the authority to transfer development rights in order to protect lands with unique aesthetic, architectural, or historic value from future development.
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In 1988 a constitutional amendment authorized tax benefits for historic properties. The Rehabilitated Historic Property Act of 1989 freezes the property-tax assessments at pre-rehabilitation levels for up to nine years when owners substantially rehabilitate their buildings according to state preservation guidelines. The Landmark Historic Property Act of 1990 allows local governments to adopt similar property-tax freezes for landmark properties without requiring rehabilitation. Tax assessors are also instructed by the Uniform Conservation Easement Act to reflect any reduction in property value from a façade or conservation easement the owner has given to a qualified organization. In 2002 the General Assembly further enhanced these incentives by adding state income tax credits for individuals who substantially rehabilitate certified historic structures.
This comprehensive legislative framework provides a sound basis for preserving Georgia's cultural heritage.
Elizabeth A. Lyon, guest editor, "Historic Preservation in Georgia on the Thirtieth Anniversary of the State Historic Preservation Office, 1969-1999," Georgia Historical Quarterly 83 (spring 1999), 73-76.
Julia H. Miller, A Layperson's Guide to Historic Preservation Law: A Survey of Federal, State, and Local Laws Governing Historic Resource Protection (Washington, D.C.: National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2000).
James K. Reap, "Legal Aspects of Historic Preservation," Georgia Historical Quarterly 63 (spring 1979), 68-76.
James K. Reap, University of Georgia
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