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Historic buildings can unexpectedly be threatened with demolition. They may be decaying, disused or in the way of a redevelopment project. A Preserve RI survey revealed that many municipalities in the state have no defensive measures whatsoever in place to prevent such destruction. Having a Demolition Delay ordinance can save the day. 


Most community comprehensive plans celebrate their local “historic character” or “sense of place”. People are rightly proud to live in areas that have a distinct and unique appearance. The concept of the historic character of a community is that the whole is made up of the sum of its parts. How many demolitions must occur for the town’s sense of place to be eroded? In the words of Joni Mitchell: Don’t it always seem to go/ that you don’t know what you got/ ‘til it’s gone?  


Communities cannot do a good job of protecting their historic character unless they are empowered to protect individual places. This is where town zoning and ordinances play a major role in ensuring the aspirations of communities do not take a back seat to private owners’ land use decisions.  

Preserve RI encourages towns to adopt demolition delay ordinances. While these ordinances don’t guarantee that a historic resource will be preserved, they do guarantee that the option of preservation is on the table. A delay buys time to consider alternatives – and it is in the consideration of alternatives that preservation disputes are often solved. Maybe it’s a purchase by a preservation-minded owner, maybe it’s a zoning solution, maybe it’s a funding proposal – all these may come to light when the clock is ticking. And if in the end the building comes down, demolition delay ordinances provide time for comprehensive photographic documentation of the building for the historical record and for the salvage of architectural features.  


Who knows where the next preservation crisis will occur – but sooner or later it will undoubtedly be in your town. Communities that have worked with their town planners and elected officials to arm local decision makers with demolition delay ordinances will navigate those troubles with at least the hope of a positive outcome.

Demolition Delay Bylaws

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