Historic properties can be recognized as landmarks in two ways: as Local Landmarks or by listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Each type of designation is different and has its own designation process.
The National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) is “the official federal list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture.” In Illinois, the NRHP program is administered by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. Generally, owner consent is required for listing in the National Register (except for publicly-owned buildings) and listing carries no obligations or responsibilities. Listing is generally an honorary status, although certain tax benefits might be available to listed buildings undergoing a certified rehabilitation. The National Register does not protect a property from changes or demolition. National Register-listed buildings can be changed or even demolished without penalty, unless federal or Illinois state funds or licenses are involved in the project. For further information, visit the NRHP site.
Protection for historic properties can only come from Local Landmark designation, which is created by local ordinance and thus varies from city to city. A preservation ordinance is nothing more than local legislation enacted to protect historic districts, individual buildings and archaeological sites from destruction or insensitive remodeling. It is a legal means by which local communities can identify, evaluate and protect historic properties. Such laws empower a board or commission to regulate to a greater or lesser degree, the design of exterior changes to buildings within a defined area. Ordinances can be very strong – regulating even paint colors (Charleston, SC) or very weak – merely a list of historic properties. The best ordinances follow established guidelines and regulate those exterior features of a property that effect its historic integrity. For further information on Champaign and Urbana’s preservation ordinances, see their respective city web sites.