The National Alliance of Preservation Commissions was established in 1983, namely in response to the 1980 amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act. These amendments provided, for the first time, direct federal financial assistance to preservation commissions whose local government met the standards of the new Certified Local Government (CLG) program. By the early 1980s there were thousands of commissions who were dealing with development pressures in historic areas. What was clearly absent was a forum for the discussion of mutual problems and a national voice representing the particular needs of commissions.
The Alliance launched its first program in October 1983 in conjunction with the National Preservation Conference in San Antonio, Texas. Commissioners from around the country met to discuss such topics as design guidelines, educating the public, and running an effective meeting. Commission interests were soon represented at countless meetings of the National Park Service (NPS), the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers (NCSHPO), as well as on Capitol Hill at budget and other Congressional hearings and meetings about the national preservation programs.
NAPC’s low cost membership dues reflected the grass roots, mostly volunteer, status of most communities’ preservation commissions. Dues supported publishing the Alliance Review and other costs. The fledgling organization relied heavily on grants, primarily from the NPS and NCSHPO. This funding provided support for ground breaking activities, including a series of workshops. Between 1983 and 1987, NAPC partnered with a variety of national partners like the National Association of Homebuilders, NPS, NTHP, and NCSHPO. In 1987, workshops for the CLG Coordinators within the State Historic Preservation Offices were held in each of the National Park Service regions.
By 1992 growth in membership had risen to over 600 commissions. To meet the growing demands on its services, NAPC adopted a board committee structure to address the organization’s operational and policy needs. Project committees were formed for planning NAPC activities at the National Preservation Conference and providing training to individual commissions and statewide organizations of commissions through the Commission Assistance Program (CAP).
In 1991 and 1992, NAPC conducted the first phase of the United States Preservation Commission Identification Project (USPCIP), jointly funded by the NTHP, to compile an accurate and up-to-date list of all known historic preservation commissions and architectural review boards. A 1981 survey by the Trust had identified 832 commissions; the 1992 survey recorded at least 1803 commissions, a dramatic increase of 117 per cent! A second phase of the USPCIP began in 1993, in which commissions received a detailed questionnaire that sought to gain a profile of all the types of commissions that exist throughout the country.
Planning for CAP began in 1994. CAP increased the effectiveness of commissions and strengthened the local preservation systems within individual states. CAP sessions were customized for their participants through four possible phases: survey and field visits to commissions, training workshops, technical assistance and special publications, and specific assistance to individual commissions. CAP was developed with support from NCSHPO, the National Trust, and the National Park Service. As CAP grew and worked with more commissions throughout the United States, it responded to commissions’ need for continued assistance and guidance. In 2001, CAP became the Commission Assistance and Mentoring Program (CAMP®).
In 1994 and 1995, NAPC partnered with the NTHP and Historic Windsor, Inc. (Vermont) on an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) project funded by the Department of Justice. The project’s purpose was to develop a self-guided training course to help preservation commissions make sound decisions about accessibility modifications to historic properties. NAPC’s contribution to the project included a survey of historic preservation commissions, gathering data on commissions’ knowledge of and experiences with the ADA, and developing ADA compliance exercises. The findings from the survey and the ADA exercises were presented at the 1995 National Preservation Conference in Fort Worth, TX.
As NAPC grew as an organization, it developed a more active presence at the annual National Preservation Conference and began to conduct educational sessions on diverse issues such as design guidelines, preservation planning, the ADA, and procedural due process. Affinity events such as the Commission Short Course and Advocacy 101 training soon followed, and the conference is now the site for NAPC board meetings, annual meetings, and luncheons.
By 1995-96 NAPC had noticed the need for greater cross training between members of the planning and preservation communities. In 1997, NAPC and the University of Georgia developed a model joint curriculum for city planning and preservation commissioners. The model curriculum was piloted at the 1997 National Planning Conference in San Diego, CA, and was co-sponsored by the American Planning Association’s Planning Commissioners Service, the National Center for Preservation Training and Technology of the National Park Service, and various state historic preservation offices (SHPOs). The one-day interactive curriculum focused on areas where historic preservation tools and broader land-use and community planning dovetail, and was intended for members and staff of planning commissions and preservation commissions.
In 1997, NAPC conducted a survey of CLG Coordinators in each SHPO office to develop a thumbnail sketch of how commissions were being trained in each state. That information helped in the organization of the first NAPC National Commission Forum held in Denver, Colorado in July 1998. More than 400 people attended, representing communities in 44 states and the District of Columbia, participating in focus group discussions and plenary sessions. The Forum was a resounding success and has become a biennial event held in Pittsburgh, PA in 2000; San Antonio, TX in 2002; Indianapolis, IN in 2004; Baltimore, MD in 2006; New Orleans, LA in 2008; Grand Rapids, MI in 2010; Norfolk, VA in 2012; and Philadelphia, PA in 2014. Forum 2016 will be held in Mobile, AL, July 27-31.
NAPC has grown into a recognized national preservation organization, and has produced several major collaborative projects. The success of CAMP® has led to almost two dozen yearly training events on average, with upgrades to topic selection and training materials based on commission needs. The NAPC Speakers Bureau program was launched in the early 2000s as a complement to CAMP®, specifically designed for clients looking for training on more specialized topics. Publications such as the Code of Ethics brochure and For the Record: the NAPC Guide to Parliamentary Procedure are offered for NAPC members. The 2009 Commission Data Project, a follow-up to the earlier United States Preservation Commission Identification Project and funded by a grant from the National Park Service, produced important data from over 500 local commissions nationwide.
2011 was a year of transition and rejuvenation for NAPC, with the unveiling of a new graphic identity and logo, redesigned publication and website, and major revisions to CAMP®. Through a National Park Service grant in 2014, a CAMP® revamp took place in the form of updated topics and learning objectives, increased format options, and expanded web presence.
FORUM 2014, held in Philadelphia, PA and FORUM 2016, held in Mobile, AL were both highly successful conferences. FORUM 2014 saw record breaking attendance with the widest audience nationwide to date and FORUM 2016 similarly exceeded attendance expectations for the conference.
In September 2014, NAPC left its long-time home at the University of Georgia, first to Norfolk, VA and is now in Virginia Beach, VA under the direction of Program Director, Stephanie Paul. NAPC continues to grow in new and exciting directions while continuing our mission of building strong local preservation programs through education, advocacy, and training.