The Virgin Islands Historic Preservation Commission (VIHPC)

The Virgin Islands Historic Preservation CommissionBy Gerville Larsen, A.I.A., Principal and Owner of Taller Larjas, LLC, Architecture and Design and member of the St. Croix Historic Preservation Commission.
The VIHPC is a VI Government regulatory commission composed of two committees that regulate the districts of St. Croix and St. Thomas/St. John. Each committee is comprised of five members. These two committees exist within the VI Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR).
The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 established a network of historic preservation offices in every state to spearhead state preservation initiatives and help carry out the nation’s historic preservation program. The position of VI State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) is held within DPNR and delegated to its Commissioner, Dawn L. Henry, Esq. The program is administered by the Deputy SHPO, Sean L. Krigger.
Presently, the USVI has three Architectural Historic Control Districts which are:
1) Charlotte Amalie & Savan – Founded 1666, VI Architectural Historic Control District (AHCD) created 1998, Federal Designation established July 19, 1976.
2) Christiansted – Founded 1734, VI Architectural Historic Control District (AHCD) created 1998, Federal Designation established July 20, 1976.
3) Frederiksted – Founded 1752, VIAHCD created 1991, Federal Designation established August 9,1976.
The VIHPC is charged with preserving and conserving our distinct architectural cultural resources and uses the following Preservation Laws to achieve this mandate: V.I. Code Title 29 , Chapter 3, Sub. 281, 285-287; V.I. Antiquities Law of 1998 & National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. By definition, a historic building and/or place is one that is 50 years or older. To assist individuals who need to restore, rehabilitate, renovate or repair these buildings, the VIHPC has Preservation Guidelines consisting of 16 forms with the following headings: 1. Signage, 2. Paint Colors & Materials, 3. Plaster-Covered Walls, 4. Brick Walls, 5. Stone Walls, 6. Wood Buildings, 7. Windows & Doors, 8. Porches & Balconies, 9. Roof Repair, 10. Architectural Metals, 11. Lighting & Mechanicals, 12. Landscaping, 13. Staircases & Steps, 14. New Additions, 15. New Buildings, and 16. Interior Changes.
In conjunction with these preservation guidelines, the VIHPC uses the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. There are four distinct treatments used for historic properties: preservation, rehabilitation, restoration & reconstruction. Each classification has requirements as to what is allowed to be done to them to ensure the quality of the repairs.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation, through its This Place Matters campaign captures the core of VIHPC efforts by helping people protect, enhance and enjoy the places that matter to them. Important and relevant information concerning why we should protect, preserve and conserve our architectural cultural resources can be found on their website at Statistical information contained here outlines the cost of new construction compared to demolishing and reconstructing these historic properties, which shows why recycling buildings is truly a green effort and promotes sustainability.
The VIHPC deals with making the community aware of the value of our cultural resources and, at times, may be viewed by some to be in conflict with allowing property owners to restore these structures as they see fit. Some examples of these rubs are as follows:
“People don’t want to be told what to do with their historic property!” Reality Check: You are a steward of the property for a relatively short period of time. This historic building will outlive you … guaranteed!!!
“People want to paint their building whatever color they want, so don’t tell me otherwise!” Reality Check: These buildings have been analyzed and extensive research has been done to know what colors are below the surface in the layers of paint going back several hundred years. Your desire to select fluorescent colors to paint your building alters the amazing architectural details and impacts negatively on the overall streetscape that makes our historic towns so unique! A former VIHPC member said it best, those loud colors are not historic and they are GARISH!
“People say it’s too expensive to fix up an old building correctly!” Reality Check: Remember these buildings have survived, sometimes without any maintenance, for over a hundred plus years. They have lasted so long because of the quality of the craftsmanship and materials used to build them. Why do you believe plastic siding will be an appropriate substitute that will survive our harsh Caribbean sun and high salt air environment? Why wouldn’t you use viable and long lasting materials to repair these buildings so they can continue to exist for several hundred years more!
In order to make the VIHPC mandates more effective, there have been initiatives and incentives put in place to assist historic property owners.
Government Incentives:

  • Enterprise Zone
  • Revenue Enhancement Act
  • Christiansted & Frederiksted Rehabilitation Act
  • Federal Tax Credit Program
  • National Heritage Area Designation

Non Profit Programs

  • Scrape & Paint Program

Government & Non Profit Partnerships –Collaboration

  • Clean Up & Board Up Program – USVIEDA & St. Croix Foundation with Law Enforcement Planning Commission

Legislation & Advocacy

  • Add Adjudicatory Language in the existing VI HP Law

Please remember, this is not just a job for the VI Historic Preservation Commission, it’s a job for every member of our community. Our Culture Matters to each and everyone one of us! In order to get this “buy in”, we need more community activism such as: self-policing especially amongst historic property owners and inhabitants; citizens need to contact VI Senators so they can make existing preservation laws more effective and finally, citizens need to become true preservation advocates.
For more information about our VI historic towns and the VIHPC application process required to do repair work in these historic districts, please contact the following individuals:
Phil Codrington, DPNR, Environmental Specialist, St. Croix District:
(340) 719-7089
Eboni Powell, DPNR, Evironmental Specialist, St. Thomas/St. John District:
(340) 774-0630
Sean L. Krigger, DPNR Acting Director/Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Historic Preservation Architect, St. Thomas/St. John District:
(340) 774-0630

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