Certificates of Appropriateness

Certificates of Appropriateness

 The main responsibility and authority of HDCs and HPCs is to determine the appropriateness of proposed changes to the properties within their jurisdiction. Prior to making any alterations to the exterior of the property that would be visible from a public street, way, or place, property owners must submit an application to the HDC or HPC for acertificate of appropriateness.  The State of Connecticut never needs a certificate ofappropriateness, and municipalities do not need one for street improvements.

For a building or structure within the LHD or one designated as an LHP, no building permit for construction or alteration and no demolition permit can be issued by the municipality until a certificate of appropriateness has been issued.

1.      What work requires a certificate of appropriateness?

A certificate of appropriateness is required for, but not limited to, any of the following exterior work that may be visible from a public street, place, or way:

a.      Construction of any new building or structure, or the proposed relocation of an existing building or structure

b.     Alteration of or any addition to the exterior architectural features of an existing building or structure

c.      Any proposed demolition of any existing building or structure, in whole or in part

d.     Any alteration or repair resulting in a change of materials on an existing building or structure

e.      Replacement, addition, or modification of windows, doors, storm windows, storm doors, or shutters on an existing building or structure

f.       Outdoor advertising signs and bill posters

g.      Parking areas for industrial, commercial, business, home industry, or occupational use

h.     Fences, walls, curb cuts, driveways, walkways, exterior lighting fixtures, and other fixed structures

2.      What work does not require a certificate?

a.      Any alteration not visible from a public street, way or place

b.     Routine maintenance that does not involve a change in materials, design, or texture

c.      Painting (with no change of material) and paint color

d.     Interior alterations

3.      When and how does one apply for a certificate of appropriateness?

Before beginning any work, the property owner must apply for a certificate of appropriateness and receive the approval of the HDC or HPC. Applications for  should be readily available at the town offices. If the municipality has a web site, applications may be posted as forms that can be printed out or filled in electronically. The completed application should be mailed or delivered to the town offices.

As part of the application, the HDC or HPC may request plans, elevations, specifications, photographs, sample materials, and other information as may be reasonably deemed necessary to enable it to make a determination on the application.  In the case of proposed demolition or removal, members may require a statement of the proposed condition and appearance of the property after such demolition or removal.

4.      Pre-application Consultation

Because the submission of an application requires a public hearing and subsequent action by the HDC or HPC, property owners may wish to schedule a pre-application consultation with the HDC or HPC in the context of a regular meeting to outline the project and identify any potential concerns before the application is submitted. The rules for such consultations should be described in the HDC or HPC rules of procedure. Pre-application consultations are solely advisory; the HDC or HPC is not bound to any particular determination as a result of such meetings.

5.      The Public Hearing

Every application for a certificate of appropriateness requires a public hearing. The hearing is intended to give members of the public, including the property owner, the opportunity to present information and opinions regarding proposed changes to buildings in the LHD or LHP. After the hearing, HDC or HPC members should be prepared to discuss the application as an agenda item at the regular meeting and deliver a vote on it. 

a.      Timing

Once an application for a certificate of appropriateness has been received, the HDC or HPC has sixty-five days from the date of receipt to hold a public hearing and make a determination on the application. Failure to act in that time frame constitutes approval of the application.

Because of the importance of this deadline, the rules of procedure of the HDC or HPCshould clearly state how and where an application is to be received, whether it is at the office of the municipal clerk, the building official, the HDC or HPC, or another municipal agency. Applications should be stamped with the date of receipt by a designated individual.

b.     Notification

Notice for a public hearing must be published in a local newspaper at least once between fifteen and five days before the date of the hearing. Notification may also be sent directly to the property owners.  

Some HDCs or HPCs require in the rules of procedure that a notice of the public hearing be posted at the subject property.  Some also require notification of direct abutters to the property.

c.      Agenda

A formal agenda for the public hearing should be available twenty-four hours before the hearing and should be posted at the hearing itself.

d.     Order and Conduct

HDCs or HPCs may wish to adopt their own rules of order for a public hearing to ensure appropriate conduct. Such rules should be reviewed by the municipal attorney for compliance with all relevant statutes. An HDC or HPC may choose to conduct the public hearing according to Robert’s Rules of Order.

The schedule of the public hearing should allot time for (a) a brief presentation of the proposal by the applicant and/or the applicant’s consultants, (b) statements of support for and objections to the application by the public, (c) questions to be considered or addressed by theHDC or HPC members, and (d) additional comments or information from the applicant.

e.      Recusal

If any HDC or HPC member has a real or potential conflict of interest on any application, as defined by the municipal conflict of interest policy, the individual must be recused from the public hearing and from the subsequent regular meeting at which the application is discussed. An alternate may be seated in place of the recused member.

Recusal is usually based on a prospect of fiduciary impact on the member either directly or indirectly as a result of the HDC’s or HPC’s deliberations or actions.  Casual acquaintance with the applicant would not constitute grounds for recusal, but the prospect of employment or business partnership for the member or a close relative would.  A member who owns or occupies property abutting that of the applicant may choose recusal if the body’s action on the application is likely to affect the member’s own property value, either negatively or positively.

Once recused, the member may not participate in any discussion regarding the application either as a member or as a private party and may not vote on the particular application. The recused member may not return to the HDC or HPC until the hearing for the particular application is closed, and the application has been acted upon.

f.       Determination

After the public hearing on a particular application is closed, seated members may consider the application on the agenda of a regular meeting to be discussed and voted upon. Members’ deliberations should be based on the enabling statute, the local ordinance, and thebody’s own rules of procedure, including any specific design guidelines and any established precedents.

A majority vote by the seated members will determine whether the application for acertificate of appropriateness is (1) approved as submitted, (2) approved with stipulations, or (3) denied. The HDC’s or HPC’s approval may include stipulations, such as time limits for the construction, use of specific materials, and even design changes.  When an application is denied, the HDC or HPC must state the reasons for its denial in its records and in its notification to the property owner.  In denying an application, the body may provide specific recommendations as to how the application might be improved.

A written notification of the decision of the HDC or HPC should be sent to the applicant within forty-eight hours after the meeting. Any stipulations should be detailed in the written notification. If an application is denied, the reasons must be clearly articulated in the notification to the affected property owner.

g.      Continuation of Review

If there is not enough time at a public hearing or at a regular meeting to address all the details of a particular application, the HDC or HPC may choose to continue the public hearing to a later date or continue the review by placing it on the agenda of the next regular meeting.  If the public hearing is continued, a notice of continuation with the date, time and location of the continuation should be posted immediately after the first public hearing. 

The HDC or HPC must take final action within sixty-five days of the date the application was filed.  The enabling statute does not allow for any special arrangements or extensions, even with the concurrence of the applicant.  Failure to make a determination on an application within the sixty-five-day period shall be construed as approval by the HDC or HPC.

h.     Public Record and Notification

Any decision reached during the meeting, including the votes of each member, must be made available for public inspection within forty-eight hours of the meeting. A written notice of any decision reached should be delivered to the applicant within forty-eight hours.  The minutes of the meeting should be submitted to the municipal clerk and available for public inspection within seven days.

6.      Considerations in Evaluating Appropriateness

The state enabling statute directs that, “In its deliberations, the historic district commission shall act only for the purpose of controlling the erection or alteration of buildings, structures, or parking which are incongruous with the historic or architectural aspects of the district.” A certificate of appropriateness must be issued for any application that is determined to be “not incongruous” with the character of the historic district or property.

Because of their legal nature, HDCs and HPCs should be prepared to work with their municipality’s designated legal counsel to ensure that their actions have the support of state and local law. In particularly thorny applications for  HDC or HPC members should consult with counsel before rendering a decision.

Some of the factors that commissioners may consider in making their determination include:

·        Historical and architectural value and significance

·        Architectural style  

·        Scale and proportion  

·        Feneral design and arrangement of features

·        Texture and material of architectural features  

·        The relationship of the building and its details to other buildings and structures in the immediate neighborhood

·        Type and scale of exterior windows, doors, light fixtures, signs, above-ground utility structures, and mechanical appurtenances (CGS, Section 7-147f[a])

In all cases, the HDC or HPC may only review those changes to the exterior of the building or structure that are visible from a public street, place, or way. They need not treat the application as a simple yes-or-no proposition, but should work with applicants to accommodate their needs without undermining the integrity of the LHD or LHP.

a.      Repairs

Normal property maintenance and repairs are not subject to review as long as there is not a change in configuration or material. In the case of roof or siding replacement, for example, a certificate of appropriateness is not required if the property owner is simply replacing the existing materials with similar ones.  If an owner proposes to replace a slate roof with asphalt, or replace wood siding with vinyl, then HDC or HPC review is required because of the change in material.

b.     Alterations

Any exterior alterations to existing buildings and structures that are visible from the public way are subject to review.  “Altered” as defined by the enabling statute means “changed, modified, rebuilt, removed, demolished, razed, moved, or reconstructed.” TheHDC or HPC has the authority to review and determine the appropriateness of any proposed alteration to the exterior of the building or structure within the LHD or LHP that is visible from a public way. Members should pay special attention to the impact of the change on the historic character of the building and to the integration of any new construction additions with the existing structure, both in terms of architectural style and materials.

c.      Additions and New Construction

Any proposed new construction within the LHD or LHP that will be visible from a public way, including additions to existing buildings and new development on vacant or subdivided lots, requires a certificate of appropriateness. The enabling statute does not require the use of historical techniques or materials, nor does it require adherence to a particular architectural period or style.  The proposed structure simply needs to be sited and designed in a way that is “not incongruous” with the character of the district. For new construction, HDCs and HPCs should consider the size, scale, proportion, and massing of the building as well as the compatibility of form and materials.

In most LHDs or LHPs, the buildings already represent a range of styles and periods. Preserving the rhythm of a particular streetscape with a new building that has the same height, setback, and scale as its neighbors may be more important than the specific exterior materials.

d.     Demolition

Any proposed demolition of a building or structure in the LHD or LHP that is visible from the public way is subject to HDC or HPC review, regardless of whether a demolition permit is required.  Within the LHD or LHP, a certificate of appropriateness is required before a demolition permit can be issued by the building official.

Under the enabling statute, the HDC or HPC has the authority to impose a demolition delay of up to ninety days once a demolition permit has been issued for any building or structure in the LHD or LHP.  The demolition delay does not apply if the building official has certified that there are unsafe or dangerous conditions that threaten public safety.

The ninety-day demolition delay gives the HDC or HPC, CCT, and other advocates time to research and document the historic building, consult with the property owner on alternatives to demolition, or find a potential purchaser to preserve the building or relocate it. The delay can be lifted at any time by written consent from both the HDC or HPC and CCT.

e.      Demolition by Neglect

HDCs and HPCs do not have the authority to require any maintenance or repair of an existing building or structure.  If a property is visibly deteriorating, members may contact the property owner to express their concern and offer guidance on appropriate solutions for stabilization and protection.

Allowing a building or structure to deteriorate to the point where it cannot reasonably be preserved or repaired is known as “demolition by neglect.”

HDCs and HPCs may ask the local building official to inspect the property for planning and zoning violations, and they may also consult with the building official regarding enforcement of the state building code and the local blight ordinance.

f.       Renewable Energy Systems

Renewable energy systems such as solar panels and wind turbines are subject to review in an LHD or LHP.  The HDC or HPC may need to consult with the property owner, the installation contractor, and outside consultants to fully understand the technical requirements of the proposed system. 

The certificate of appropriateness may include stipulations relating to the design and location of the renewable energy system as long as the stipulations do not significantly impair the effectiveness of the system.  Under the enabling statute, the HDC or HPC may not deny an application unless it determines that the renewable energy system cannot be installed without substantially impairing the historic character and appearance of the LHD or LHP.

g.      Parking

Plans for new, enlarged, or altered parking areas within the LHD or LHP are subject to review, regardless of zoning.  Parking for industrial, commercial, business, home industry,or occupational use requires a certificate of appropriateness.

In deliberating on parking areas within the LHD or LHP, the HDC or HPC may consider the size of the parking area, the visibility of cars parked in the proposed area, the proximity of the parking area to adjacent buildings, and other factors which have a bearing on the historic character of the specific LHP and/or the LHD as a whole.

h.     Hardship variations

HDCs and HPCs have the authority to vary, modify, or interpret the review standards to accommodate unusual situations. Within a regulated LHD or LHP, hardship refers only to “topographical conditions, district borderlines situations, or other unusual circumstances solely with respect to a certain parcel of land and not affecting” the LHD or LHP as a whole that would result in exceptional practical difficulty or undue hardship with respect to a particular project.

The enabling statute allows the HDC or HPC to relax the strict applications of its standards in regard to a particular situation, but does not provide an exemption from review. A certificate of appropriateness is still required for any exterior work visible from a public way. 

Variances must be based on information provided by the property owner in the application for a certificate of appropriateness and must be related to the “unusual circumstances” of that particular property.  If a variance is granted, the HDC or HPC must detail the specific reasons for the variation in its own records and in its notice to the property owner.

7.      Appeals

Property owners, applicants and any other aggrieved persons may appeal a decision of the HDC or HPC through a judicial process.  The appeal must be filed with the Superior Court for the judicial district in which the LHD or LHP is located within fifteen days of the date when the decision was rendered. The party appealing the decision must deliver a notarized copy of their appeal directly to the chairman or clerk of the HDC or HPC or to their usual place of abode.  

In the 1970 appeal of Carroll v. Roxbury Historic District Commission, a Superior Court judge ruled that “the date the decision was rendered” means that the fifteen-day period begins when the applicant receives notice that an application was denied, not on the date that the HDC or HPC reaches its decision.  Applicants should be notified of the HDC’s or HPC’sdetermination within forty-eight hours of that body’s meeting.

8.      Enforcement

The decisions of the HDC or HPC are legally enforceable under the municipal authority and the state enabling statute.  Any work on a building or structure that is undertaken without a required certificate of appropriateness is a violation of the municipal ordinance.

If a violation exists, either by failure to apply for a certificate of appropriateness or because of abridgement of the terms of the certificate, the HDC or HPC may institute an action against the violator in the Superior Court for its judicial district and request an injunction for specific action.  The HDC or HPC does not have the authority to impose fines or issue “stop-work” orders on its own.  The town enforcement officer and the corporation counsel must be consulted.  It is the responsibility of the town to provide the HDC or HPCwith legal representation as it would for any municipal body.

a.      Penalties

The Superior Court injunction may direct the “removal or correction” of a building or structure or exterior architectural feature that is erected in violation of the HDC or HPCregulations.  The violator may be fined $10 to $100 a day as long as the violation exists, or $100 to $250 per day if the violation is willful, plus additional damages and court costs. 

The violator does not have to be the owner of the building; a lessee, tenant, agent or contractor may be in violation as well.  The fines imposed by the Superior Court shall be used to restore the building, structure, or site to its previous condition, with any excess money turned over to the municipality.

b.     Enforcement Officer

The HDC or HPC may designate the municipality’s zoning enforcement officer, building inspector, or other official to enforce its authority as designated by the local ordinance.  The enforcement officer may be authorized to inspect and examine any particular property and issue a written requirement for remedying any violation of the HDC or HPCregulations.

The HDC or HPC should work with the enforcement officer to ensure that individualunderstands its purposes and concerns and is able to commit to enforcing its actions.

Securing the cooperation and trust of residents and property owners is the most effective means of enforcement. Where voluntary compliance is not forthcoming, and negotiations have broken down, the threat of legal action can persuade reluctant parties to apply for a certificate of appropriateness or adhere to the stipulations of an existing certificate.

“Stop-work” orders and daily fines may be imposed by the building official under the state building code and under local planning and zoning ordinances as warranted.  HDCs and HPCs do not have the authority to impose fines or issue stop-work orders directly.