Saving heritage requires public support
TO THE EDITORS:
Citizens of Lancaster County have inherited world-class soils and water resources. We can be proud of successes in conserving natural resources and farmland. And while our built landscape contains many good preservation examples, stewardship of this part of our environment has been half-hearted and misguided when it comes to municipal land-use decisions that affect historic properties.
Concerned individuals need to get involved with local governments, where the critical decisions on this issue are made. It's a misconception that protecting historic buildings is the primary responsibility of the Historic Preservation Trust, Lancaster County government, state or federal agencies. They can offer guidance and limited assistance, but individual citizens have constitutional rights in Pennsylvania to enjoy the values of the environment -- built and natural.
Residents need to ask their local and state representatives if they understand their required roles and responsibilities in these matters. Especially at the municipal level, governments must level the playing field between the public's historic and natural heritage and private property interests. Local governments can and should accomplish this role with fair and thorough administration of land-use laws that citizens should press for enactment, and which are allowed by law.
In Lancaster County, however, despite the widely accepted notion that our heritage is directly linked to our economic and social well being, only about 10 of 60 municipalities have enacted zoning ordinances that address these issues. And many of these ordinances are weak, only delaying the inevitable demolition. The other dirty secret is the widespread demolition by neglect of historic properties that local governments allow. The Mayer Farmstead in Manheim Township is probably the most visible and egregious example of this neglect. There are scores of others.
Lancaster County should convene a summit of preservation and conservation groups, developers, planners and citizens to find consensus on who is legally responsible for the policies, programs and actions involved in this complex and admittedly confusing arena. Meantime, the wasting of our heritage continues.
(Editors' note: The writer is consulting historian and former executive director of the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County.)