Aesthetics, Community Character, and the Law

PAS Report 489/490

By Christopher Duerksen, Matthew Goebel, AICP

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Today's planners use myriad tools and techniques to identify and protect what is special about their communities: historic preservation ordinances, improved sign controls, computerized viewshed protection regulations, tree-planting and landscaping requirements, cell tower controls, and more. As the level of preservation activity has increased dramatically, so has the number of court cases challenging aesthetic-based regulation.

This report, an extensively updated and revised edition of PAS Report 399, will help land-use planners and citizens understand the law of aesthetics and the legal tools available to help their communities maintain their special features and sense of place. It covers design review, view protection, tree protection, sign controls, and telecommunications facilities, including major updates based on recent developments in the law and in planning practice.

This report is cosponsored by Scenic America, a national nonprofit organization that works to preserve natural beauty and distinctive community character. It has helped citizens and public officials in communities nationwide protect their scenic heritage. For more information, visit the website at

Product Details

Page Count
Date Published
March 1, 1999
Adobe PDF

Table of Contents


1. Introduction
Historical perspective/background

2. Design review
Design review in historic areas • Design review outside historic areas • Implementing and administering design review

3. View protection
Legal aspects • Types of view protection • Recent developments

4. Tree and vegetation protection
Key legal issues • Drafting considerations

5. Billboards, signs, and newsboxes
Legal issues • Guidelines for drafting local sign and billboard controls • Recent developments • Newsboxes

6. Telecommunications facilities
General legal issues • Personal wireless service facilities • Satellite dishes and television antennas • Amateur radio antennas • Other general legal requirements for telecommunications facilities • Local regulatory issues • Conclusion

7. Emerging issues
The aesthetics of public infrastructure • Wind turbines • Regional partnerships and heritage areas

List of references