Saving our homes. Preserving our land. Protecting our rights.
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What is an NHA?

A National Heritage Area (NHA) is an area designated by Congress and a program of the National Park Service and Department of the Interior.  It is a permanent designation unless repealed by Congress.  They are supposed to be formed by residents of a region who wish to tell a national story.  They involve preservation, tourism, education and economic development.  The area is a clearly defined map and is included in the federal legislation.  The legislation for each Heritage Area is unique.

Who runs an NHA and how are they run?

Several are run by state and government appointed commissions but many are run by non-profit associations.  What they all seem to have in common is that NHAs are managed by Commissions or Directors who are not elected by the community at large---instead they are all appointed.  Many of these non-profits are private non-member organizations so a self-appointed board would be responsible for the ultimate decision making in an NHA—this seems to be what is proposed for Hawaii. Since they are not elected by the community at-large, they do not have to answer to them. Unlike elected officials, Board members are not even required to live within the proposed area. The group is only accountable to the Department of the Interior for the way their funds are used.  Private non-profits are not required to publish minutes of their meetings so there is no public record of how decisions are made.

How long has this been in the works and why don’t people know about it?  How long will it last? 

They have been working on this for six years without going out to community stakeholders in the affected areas. Neighborhood Boards in the area were not briefed on this until 2009 after legislation was introduced in Congress. Communities should have been consulted early on in the process to see if they even supported an NHA designation. The designation is permanent until it is cancelled by another act of Congress.

How could this program affect me?  As a home/property owner or if I don’t own property? 

Home and property owners will have their homes and properties surveyed and documented (see ‘HCCC Quotes’) so that recommendations can be made in the management plan about areas being “protected, enhanced, managed or developed” (S. 359).  This could lead to more permitting steps, design restrictions, zoning restrictions or even possibly condemnation.

If you don’t own property, you could still be affected by having an outside group that is not elected by your community having a say in oversight and planning/development of your neighborhood.  Cooperative agreements between the group, the Department of the Interior and the City and State mean that the recommendations of the NHA group will overrule recommendations of other local groups in your area such as the neighborhood board.  So an outside group will end up having much more of a say in the future of your community than long-term local elected community groups and associations.

I’ve heard that several areas and many homeowners have asked to withdraw from the proposed Heritage Area boundary map.  Also, that neighborhood boards in the area have either taken no action, deferred action or not supported this designation.  What is happening?

Yes, several areas which have learned of the proposal have asked to withdraw or expressed a desire to withdraw:  Tantalus, Oahu Country Club, the Woodlands in Nuuanu, and Papakolea.  The Chinatown Improvement District supported the request of the owners of over half the privately owned property in Chinatown that the Chinatown district be withdrawn.  The Liliha neighborhood Board voted not to support this NHA designation. Nuuanu-Pauoa Neighborhood Board and Kalihi-Palama Neighborhood Board took no action (after several months a letter/resolution requesting support for the NHA was withdrawn from both Boards).  The Downtown Neighborhood Board first had a presentation on the initiative in February, 2010 and deferred action.  Many home and property owners have also written asking for their properties to be withdrawn from the map.  

I’ve heard that it is a lot of free federal pork for arts groups and the State of Hawaii.  Is this true? 

It isn’t like certain grant programs that are free money for certain groups and have no drawbacks for other people in the area.  Certain groups will benefit at the expense of other groups (home, business and property owners as well as community stakeholders).  Fact is, there is less and less federal money available for this program.  New Heritage Areas are only receiving $150,000 in 2010 (vs. the $1 million the legislation calls for).  The Congressional Budget Office proposed to eliminate funding for the NHA grant program in 2011 and beyond citing lack of key management controls and property rights concerns among other things (see ‘Funding’).

I’ve heard the program is voluntary and that property owners can choose to participate or not.  Is this true? 

If your home, business, or property is within the boundaries of the map, you have already been included in the proposed NHA area (without your permission).  Studies, surveys and recommendations could still affect your home and neighborhood.  Zoning changes or new permitting procedures and design controls could also affect you.  It depends on what is in the management plan (an unknown that can be developed up to three YEARS after the law passes).  A look at management plans for other Heritage Areas show that such zoning changes and design controls are often listed as desired outcomes.

What do I need to know now?

1.  Legislation was in subcommittee in Congress for two years---it is scheduled to be reintroduced this year.

2.  The Capital Cultural Coalition had been planning and working on this for six years without consulting community stakeholders in the proposed area.  Neighborhood boards did not know about it until 2009 (AFTER legislation had been submitted in Congress).  When did you find out about it?  Do your neighbors know?  Very few people in the area seem to know about it and how it could affect them.

3.  Several areas which have recently learned about it have asked to be removed from the proposed area:  Tantalus, Papakolea Homesteads, Chinatown land and business owners, The Woodlands (Nuuanu), the Oahu Country Club (Nuuanu).

4.  Liliha neighborhood board voted not to support this designation.  Other neighborhood boards in the area have either deferred action on it (Downtown Neighborhood Board), or not taken action on it (Nuuanu-Pauoa, Kalihi-Palama, and Kaka’ako). 

5.  If you do not support the NHA you can ask for your property or neighborhood to be removed.  Stakeholders in the area must agree with the boundaries of the map. 

6.  People who are being told that the NHA is “just a cultural grants program to tell our stories” and an honorary designation probably don’t know that the way this program works could actually hurt them and others.

7.   This is a permanent federal designation.  It won’t go away after a few years.  It can only be cancelled by another act of Congress.  If funding disappears, the HCCC will still be able to make recommendations about all sites, properties and communities in the area.

8.   There will be little or no recourse for community stakeholders if they disagree with recommendations in the management plan or actions carried out by local government in support of the management plan.  Disagreements with plans in other areas have meant having to file lawsuits.

9.   Without adequate safeguards in the legislation to protect the majority of community stakeholders, certain groups will benefit from an NHA at the expense of other groups. 

I've heard that some NHAs are vast in size.  Does size of the NHA make a difference?

NHAs come in all different sizes.  In YUMA, AZ., where there was public outcry, Congress had to redefine the boundaries of the area and make it much smaller (back to the size originally proposed).

What is the process to apply for an NHA?

Usually the residents of a region consider pursuing such a program for their area.  It is supposed to be a grassroots effort by the public because, after all, they reside and own property in the area---these are their lands and ancestral lands that will fall under the permanent federal designation.  They are supposed to hold meetings to gather public input and reach out to key constituencies and stakeholders about whether they wish their area to become an NHA.  NHA literature states that residents and stakeholders have options:  (1) Not to pursue an NHA; (2) pursue other programs that might best fit their needs; or (3) pursue an NHA designation.  Sadly, what has happened in several states (and why NHAs are controversial) is that special interest groups pursue the program and communities and residents only find out at the last minute (after legislation has been introduced like in Hawaii) or after the law has passed (Yuma, AZ., Great Plains, N.D.).  After all, not too many people are comfortable having a self-elected outside group making recommendations about their properties and communities.  

What is a Feasibility Study?

If the residents of a region decide to pursue a federal designation of the area, they must complete a feasibility study as part of their application to Congress.  The study usually lays out national themes, proposes the area to be designated and documents public participation and involvement in the study.  The study is used to demonstrate that the area meets the requirements for an NHA and that Critical Steps have been taken to merit designation.

What are the Critical Steps?

There are four critical steps:

1.  Completion of a Feasibility Study.

2.  Public Involvement in the Feasibility Study.

3.  Widespread public support among heritage area residents.

4.  Commitment to the proposal from key constituents, which may include governments, industry, and private, non-profit organizations, in addition to area residents.

If the four critical steps have not been met then an area does not meet the criteria for designation.

What happens if the area becomes an NHA?

Once the law is passed in Congress, the non-profit who will manage it is required to complete a management plan in three years.  This managing group signs a cooperative agreement (meaning substantial involvement by the government in the group’s work) with the National Park Service by which technical assistance and federal funds can flow to the non-profit.  This managing group can also enter into cooperative agreements with local government (State and City) and invite the Secretary of the Interior to sign cooperative agreements with other groups:  states, cities and other private groups and individuals to support the plan they will develop (and provide grant funding to local government for planning to further their management plan—see GAO Report, 2004, p. 4).

What is in the Management Plan?

The management plan must include an inventory of all sites and properties that relate to the NHA themes (almost any site could relate to the themes) and recommendations as to whether those sites should be “protected, enhanced, managed or developed” (S. 359, Sect. 5(5)).  It is not just a local plan because the Secretary of the Interior can ask for revisions and changes to the plan before the Secretary signs it and releases federal funds. 

What does this mean for me?  The average resident and home/property/business owner?

Heritage Area advocates would say nothing.  But a look at other Heritage Areas around the country, their management plans and feasibility studies show that there are consequences for anyone living inside the boundaries of the map.  The Hawaii Feasibility Study calls for documenting and inventorying individual houses in Kalihi, Palama, Liliha and other areas (see ‘HCCC Quotes’).  The appendix shows that only Chinatown is a regulated area (meaning there are restrictive regulations and design controls in place).  Other areas are mentioned as not yet surveyed and regulated:  Kalihi-Palama, Kakaako, Liliha, etc.  There is a very real possibility that documentations, studies and inventories will lead to additional restrictive controls (like in Chinatown which has a separate Special Design District permitting process).  Also, if someone wishes to do something with their property that conflicts with the management plan, the managing group would most likely weigh in.

In Wheeling, West Virginia, the management group’s plan recommended that 90% of downtown Wheeling be condemned for a Victorian themed outlet mall (see 'Condemnation').  Property, business owners and residents had to fight this case to the State Supreme Court.  This certainly impacted them negatively.

Living within an NHA boundary will mean documentation and inventories of homes, properties and buildings, as well as a small private unelected group making recommendations about those properties and sites to local government and the Department of the Interior. At the least, it will probably mean an extra layer of permitting and the most, it could lead to condemnation of properties for the purposes of "economic development."  

But I’ve heard that this managing group will only be advisory (like many other non-profits), that the map is a virtual map for funding purposes, that it is just a cultural grants program to tell our stories, and that it is voluntary (opt-in) and property owners can chose not to participate?

1.  Cooperative agreements with local government to support the efforts of the management plan mean that the recommendations of the managing group will most likely overrule that of most other non-profits or community groups in the area.  Certain management plans call for Cities to amend planning documents and zoning ordinances to align with their plan.  Certain Heritage Area literature suggests documenting zoning law changes and decisions and design guidelines for new construction as proposed “measures of success” for Heritage Areas.

2.  The map has very specific boundaries spelled out in the legislation.  If your house or property falls within the map, you have been included (involuntarily).  Silence is considered acceptance of the map.  So, if you do not know about the Heritage Area initiative or do not ask to have your property removed, then decisions made by the managing group could directly (or indirectly) affect you and your home, business or property.

Are these some of the same groups that pushed for Act 228 where people were required to submit archival quality black and white photos for alteration of structures over fifty years of age prior to obtaining a building permit? 

Act 228 was sponsored by legislators and supported by non-profits who are either part of the HCCC coalition or strongly in support of NHA designation.  The legislation they crafted and supported was repealed after less than a year by State legislators because it was too broad and proved intolerable and too burdensome for residents and businesses.  Act 228 could be a forerunner of things to come if federal legislation to designate the Hawaii NHA were to become law.

But what about preserving important sites in the area?

The sites and historic properties (such as Iolani Palace, Bishop Museum, Mauna Ala, etc.) listed in the feasibility study are already protected under state and national preservation designations. 

What about all the protections for private property owners in the Bill?

1.  The right to refrain from participating in Heritage Area programs: this does not mean that studies, inventories documentations and recommendations won't affect your property or home or business in the long run. Since management plans can recommend reclassifying whole areas, your property could get caught up in restrictive regulations for a whole area (like Chinatown's Special Design District).  No one can assure Honolulu’s residents, business people and property owners that they will not be affected by such studies and programs in which they do not desire to participate, but that could adversely affect them and their interests.

2.  No regulatory authority is given to the managing group.  Since local governments support the plan through resolutions and cooperative agreements in order to receive federal funding, the City and State will likely follow what is recommended in the plan.  This could lead to more regulations, restrictions, and even unwanted development and condemnation.  In the HCCC’s Feasibility Study (Dec. 2008) the hope is expressed that studies and recommendations will lead to more government controls and regulations (and cooperative agreements and the lure of grants help to make this happen).

3.  The managing entity cannot acquire any property with federal funds provided in the legislation:  Okay, but they can lease properties owned or taken by the City and co-develop properties with the City.  If the managing group (or their coalition partners or affiliates) leases or develops properties about which they have made recommendations, this would be a classic conflict of interest.   They can also acquire properties with other sources of federal and non-federal funds.

What about the Coalition’s Statement about possible condemnation of properties with recommendations from the NHA managing group and their plan?  That the plan must “consider the interests of diverse units” and “recommendations…are developed through an extensive participatory community planning process and would be mutually agreed upon”.   What does that mean?

We’re not sure what that means but they are not denying that recommendations in the plan could lead to condemnation of properties (see 'Condemnation').  

What if I don’t own property or a home?  How would this affect me?

It means that people who have little history or stake in your area (at last count, only three of the board members of the managing group lived in the area) and who aren’t elected by you will be making decisions about your neighborhood.  An outside group will be making recommendations about your community and how it should be developed.  Unlike neighborhood boards (elected) or the elected representatives of other long term community associations in the area, the NHA managing group will not be elected by or answerable to members of the community.  The managing group also has no term limits—you won’t ever be able to vote them out.  This means that the NHA group could pursue its own interests rather than consider the interests of each of the affected communities.  Since they don’t have constituents there is no one who can hold them responsible or accountable.  They don’t really need to listen to the concerns or issues of the affected communities at all.  It also means that all other groups in the area will have less of a say with City and State agencies than the NHA group with its funds, management plan and cooperative agreements to support the plan.

But what about statements by the City administration about permitting and how the NHA does not affect property rights because it is an opt-in program? 

Passage of the law itself will not mean instant new regulations, ordinances or permitting procedures.  But, studies, inventories and recommendations in the plan (along with cooperative agreements) can lead, down the road, to amended City planning documents and zoning ordinances as has been called for in other management plans.  The current City Administration might not sign cooperative agreements with the Secretary of the Interior or the NHA managing group, but later Administrations always have that option. 

Because a focus of NHAs is preservation, design guidelines can be encouraged in the area.  Like the HCCC’s Feasibility study mentions on p. 188:  Chinatown is the only downtown area that has been listed and REGULATED.  Chinatown is regulated and restricted through permitting design guidelines.  Styles of lighting, building colors and materials, recession of doorways, etc. are all specified in a separate permitting process for Chinatown (see 'Restrictions').  Studies and inventories of other areas (listed in the study as Kalihi, Palama, Liliha, Kapalama and Kaka’ako), along with recommendations, could lead to these areas being listed and regulated like Chinatown.  Or condemnation and development of neighborhoods could be recommended as happened in the Wheeling, W. VA management plan (see 'Condemnation').

As for the choice to opt-in?  Members of the City Administration probably have not heard of the case of Wheeling, W. VA. where the public fought condemnation of 90% of the downtown area.  Whether they wanted to participate in the NHA or not was beside the point---they were swept up in condemnation proceedings anyway. 

But isn’t it just pork and free money (a money grab) for the arts groups?  And isn’t it a lot of money in federal funds for the State?

First, yes, it was said that it was just free pork for the arts groups.  When concerns were raised about how it could affect home, business and property owners in the area, it was then said that it was a lot of money for the State of Hawaii.  But research has shown that in 2010, newly established Heritage Areas are receiving only $150,000 of the $1 million dollars they are eligible to receive (see 'Funding').  The Congressional Budget office has proposed to eliminate funding for the program in 2011 and beyond, citing lack of key management controls, failure to adequately track federal funding or the appropriateness of expenditures, and the need for the National Park Service to focus on its core mission (the Parks).  The Obama administration has proposed to cut program funding by 50% in 2011.  It isn’t free money and it isn’t a lot of money for Hawaii.

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