Owner FAQs

Yes! A referendum among all property owners in the proposed district is required by law. Two-thirds of those voting must approve of the district as it is proposed in the Study Report. The results of the referendum go to the municipal legislative body for final approval.

Also, before a Local Historic District is designated, all residents and owners of property in the proposed local district have the opportunity to express their views locally at public hearings with the Historic Preservation Commission and the elected officials.

It is possible that you are already in a State or National Register District. Many Local Historic Districts and Properties are also located in State or National Register Historic Districts. Only the Local Historic District requires review for a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA). We do encourage you to maintain your State or National Register-listed properties. Private owners may be eligible for tax credits through the State Historic Preservation Office to offset the cost of restoration and repairs. And municipalities and non-profits may be eligible for grants through SHPO or Preservation Connecticut.

Studies undertaken throughout the country and here in Connecticut have shown that historic district designation stabilizes or increases property values for property owners. In most cases properties in Local Historic Districts appreciate at rates greater than the local market as a whole and in similar neighborhoods that are not designated. Similar studies have also shown that municipalities with established Local Historic Districts attract more residents, new businesses and tourists than those without one.

A historic district can also increase property values in surrounding neighborhoods by attracting and generating increased sales tax revenues. Developers and new residents can feel confident investing in communities with historic districts because they enjoy a level of consistency and protection.

Finally, a less tangible result is the protection of an area’s history and character, often resulting in a sense of community pride in honoring what came before.

Yes. A Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) is needed for any proposed exterior changes to a property that are visible from the public right-of-way. Any such changes are legally subject to review and approval by the Historic District Commission. “Changes” include new construction as well as demolition activity. They also can include replacing windows and doors, installing different siding material, enclosing a porch, adding a fence or replacing all or part of a structure. Major landscaping changes, such as removing large trees or adding a circular driveway, may be reviewed depending on your local design standards. Minor maintenance or repairs do not require a COA under the ordinance, but it is important to check in with your local Commission to see how these activities are handled.

Historic district designations do not prevent change. Local designation encourages sensitive development (even new construction) in the district and discourages unsympathetic changes from occurring. One great resource that can help guide homeowners is the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. For specific projects ranging from porches to windows, there are a series of Preservation Briefs available from the Park Service.

Your first step should be to contact your local historic district commission and see if they have any design guidelines to review. If not, review past applications on file or speak with the administrator for the Commission. You would then submit a complete and thorough application to the Commission including any supporting documentation needed. Many projects require drawings. If you are proposing in-kind or similar replacement materials you can even bring specification sheets or samples to help make your case.

After an owner submits an application for the HDC’s agenda, a formal public hearing is held. In its review, the HDC considers (1) the impact of the proposed changes and (2) the appropriateness of the change to the character of the district. After the formal hearing, at its regular meeting, the HDC reaches a decision. If it finds the proposed change appropriate, it issues a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA). Work can then begin pending approval of other town requirements such as building permits, building codes, or zoning approvals.

Each application to the HDC requires a noticed public hearing. Property owners or any member of the public can attend these public meetings and express their opinions. This applies to concerned neighbors or interested parties. As an applicant, it is always important to provide the HDC with as much information as possible. It is also best to be prepared to answer any questions posed at these hearings in order to avoid delays.

No, there is no HDC review required for interior changes to a building but remember that your local HDC is also a resource. Look to them if you have questions about making major changes to your property’s interior. They may have resources to share to help you make the best decision or even guide you to funding that may offset the costs of making some of those renovations.

The HDC has no authority over paint color or any work that is commonly considered routine maintenance and repair. Some HDCs will list actions that do not require review in their regulations or in their design guidelines. This is helpful for homeowners and avoids unnecessary application fees and frustration all around.

The use of a property is controlled by municipal zoning regulations, not by the HDC. It is important to remember that any changes to permanent exterior features visible from the public way still have to be reviewed by the HDC to obtain a COA.

No. Local preservation ordinances simply ask that any new construction fit in with the existing historic buildings and not detract from the historic character of the district as a whole. There is no requirement for owners to remove later additions or put back lost features. In fact, it is important not to recreate a “false” historic appearance.

Preservation and the pursuit of a sustainable energy source do not need to be at odds. Solar panel installation that does not detract from the character of the district can be approved in most every case if the property owner begins discussions early with the Commission.

No, Local Historic District Commissions can and should vote on the proper installation of solar panels. Commissions can work with homeowners to help find the best placement of the panels. The goal is to reduce the physical impact on the main historic structure and limit visibility from the street whenever possible. These guidelines from the National Park Service and guidelines adopted by the City of Hartford can be helpful in choosing the best placement plan for your property.

Windows are character defining features and once they are altered the entire character of the property can be lost. The first goal should always be to repair existing windows whenever possible. Reglazing, weatherstripping, and adding interior or exterior storms often achieves a similar R-value as new windows. It is also possible that repairing the windows will be more cost-effective over time. Original wood windows can be repaired over and over, while new double-paned windows made of composite materials must be entirely replaced once they are no longer functioning. When windows must be replaced this should be done using in-kind materials replicating the original units.

For more information on repairing vs. replacing historic windows check out these resources.

It is always preferable to repair or replace with in-kind materials. Alternatives to wood for example may appear maintenance free, but can result in unanticipated issues. If the material splits or cracks how will it be repaired? If the paint delaminates can the feature be repainted like wood? How will substitute materials react or perform alongside historic materials that have worked together through decades of freeze-thaw cycles? As with windows, it is possible that substitute materials wind up costing more in the long run.

The National Park Service has Preservation Briefs on the use of substitute materials on exteriors and the visual and physical consequences of using vinyl or aluminum siding.

It shouldn’t. Commissions are not established to make things more difficult for owners, rather the purpose of a local historic district is to keep as much of the historic fabric in place as is possible. When alterations are necessary, Commissions are there to help guide homeowners, provide resources and ensure that the historic character of the building is not lost in the process. The goal is to manage change within the district, not prevent it from occurring.

The Historic Homes Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program available through the State Historic Preservation Office has been established to help owners of historic buildings offset the cost of repairs.

In a local historic district, owners must get a Certificate of Appropriateness for their project before getting a building permit. This does add one layer of review to your construction process, but it does not necessarily mean that the project will take longer. Having a complete application, working with your Historic District Commission and sticking to the plan approved for your COA will make the process go faster.

Yes. Every house within the district boundaries needs to get a COA before a building permit can be issued.

Yes. Appeals can be made to the superior court for the judicial district in which the municipality is located.