Commission FAQs

Being a commissioner means following the established rules of procedure for the commission's work, helping property owners understand what to consider when proposing changes to a structure in the district, offering guidance in the preparation of applications for certificate of appropriateness, and reviewing submitted applications in a fair and consistent manner. Being fair and consistent can be challenging given the wide array of issues faced by commissions; however, having clear communication and being willing to work with applicants to come to a solution that preserves the historic and architectural character of the district is the key.

Other duties can include reviewing zoning variances or exceptions as well as municipal or other state or federally funded improvement projects that may affect a district or property. The commission is also the main voice to represent the community's interests when demolition is proposed in a district. It can resolve to identify and create new LHDs or LHPs and perhaps most importantly, it can serve as a resource for historic properties owners throughout the town, even those outside of the LHD.

Yes, as a public agency in Connecticut, it must keep records of activities and commissioner determinations on issues and applications that come before it. It must also file annual reports on those activities with the State Historic Preservation Office, including commission membership, changes in LHDs or LHPs, as well information on applications reviewed, approved or denied. See Sec. 7-147c of the enabling legislation.

If your HDC established Rules of Procedure, District Regulations or Design Guidelines, these can be very helpful for both commissioners and property owners. The more information provided to both the public and those reviewing applications the better. The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties outline the principal considerations in thinking about alterations to historic structures. There are four standards: Preservation, Rehabilitation, Restoration and Reconstruction. While there may be occasions to use the Preservation, Restoration and Reconstruction Standards, the Standards for Rehabilitation will provide you with the best balance when evaluating changes to properties in Local Historic Districts.

In addition, Preservation Connecticut and the State historic Preservation Office offer training sessions periodically throughout the year and by request for commissioners.

As a commissioner you are reviewing any changes to the exterior of the building that are visible from a public right of way. These can include anything from the reconstruction of a historic porch to the construction of a parking lot. Any fixed structure that is not a building is also subject to review such as sheds or fences. The Park Service publishes Preservation Briefs on a wide variety of specific topics and can help to guide some of your decisions.

There is tremendous pressure to replace windows in the name of energy efficiency. The truth is that most of the heat loss in a house happens through the roof. A properly glazed historic window with a storm performs just as well as a new window and can be repaired again and again. Once a historic window is removed from a building it will likely never be replaced. Historic window openings are also inconsistently sized and replacement with standardized new windows often requires added loss of building fabric. Once new windows fail (which can happen in less than ten years) they need to be replaced entirely with a new unit. That doesn’t sound very energy efficient to us. Resources for the repair of historic wood and steel windows.

Substitute materials are also very popular among applicants, but they should only be used after a great deal of consideration. Many appear to be maintenance free, but how will they perform over the long term? Once they split or crack how are they repaired? If the paint delaminates, can they be repainted just like wood? How do they react with the historic materials on the structure that have been working in unison for many decades through freeze and thaw cycles? These are all concerns and should be carefully thought through before approving removal of the original features. Perhaps the first questions is whether or not the material has to be replaced at all? Can it be repaired or replaced with in-kind materials? Many applicants say that new wood doesn’t perform like old wood and they are correct, but there are several salvage companies in Connecticut that offer an array of historic building parts.

New technology has made "acetylated wood" possible although it is still fairly difficult to obtain. This is a fast-growing species of radiata pine that has been treated to perform like a hard wood.

If an applicant’s building is listed on the State or National Register of Historic Places, repairing historic windows, installing appropriate storms or replacing wood in-kind can be offset by the use of the Historic Homes Tax Credit program available through the State Historic Preservation Office.

In general, it is important to make sure that any new additions do not overwhelm the original historic building. They should be planned to minimize visibility from the street and should be compatible but distinct from the original building. Infill construction in historic districts should likewise conform to the overall scale and massing found in the district, but otherwise can be architecturally diverse from the majority of the existing properties. Links to several references that delve further into this complex subject can be found below.

"New Construction within the Boundaries of Historic Properties," National Park Service "New Construction In Historic Districts," District of Columbia Historic Preservation Guidelines "Compatible Infill Design," Restore Oregon "New Exterior Additions to Historic Buildings," Preservation Brief 14, National Park Service

No, it does not. Since paint is considered reversible in most cases, property owners can paint their homes whatever color they choose. Check in with your local Commission if you are painting brick or other masonry elements, since that may not be considered a reversible change.

We think solar is a great choice - Preservation Connecticut has solar panels on our own headquarters! Commissioners should work with the property owner and their installer to reduce the visibility of the panels from the street. Together they can achieve a plan to maximize exposure while minimizing visual impact. The best option is to install panels on an outbuilding or even on a ground mounted array. This offers more flexibility in reducing visibility from the street while also eliminating any potential damage to the main historic structure. When that isn’t possible, it is always best to install panels on a side or rear elevation. Low profile installations on frontward facing gables further reduce visibility from the street. In making these small changes, it is often possible for property owners to put money back into the grid while maintaining the overall character of their historic buildings. The National Park Service has standards for the placement of solar panels on historic structures, and Hartford developed guidelines in 2017.