Conservation Zones | HPC Training | Wisconsin Historical Society

Guide or Instruction

Designating Conservation Zones

Chapter 5: Preservation Commission Operations, Page 5 of 6

Conservation Zones | HPC Training | Wisconsin Historical Society

An alternative to traditional historic district designation is to establish a conservation zone or district. Conservation zoning has been applied in historic neighborhoods across the country but has had limited usage in Wisconsin.

Conservation zoning should be considered by commissions as an available tool for protection and preservation of areas that may not qualify as historic districts or where public support for historic districts is lacking.


Conservation zones are often applied to areas that may not fully meet the criteria for a local historic district, but where residents wish to control undesirable growth, changing land uses, and/or incompatible new designs. Conservation districts have also been approved for a number of low- to moderate-income areas.

Conservation zoning is sometimes a more attractive option for a neighborhood than historic district zoning. Conservation zoning requires review of only three design elements:

  • New construction
  • An addition to an existing property
  • Demolition

Advantages and Disadvantages

The advantage of conservation zones is that they may generate more public support than historic districts because of the lower level of review. Such zones may also be more applicable to neighborhoods where much of the historic fabric has been compromised but interest remains in having compatible new construction.

The disadvantage of conservation zones is that this designation offers no review or enforcement for overall building rehabilitation. Within conservation zones, property owners can still apply synthetic sidings, replace original windows, and remodel porches without review. However, in most conservation zones, property owners seem more willing to pursue appropriate rehabilitation than in similar areas that are not designated as conservation zones.