What's a Local Historic District (LHD)?

Collinsville LHD, Canton
Collinsville LHD, Canton

In the simplest terms local historic designation is meant to preserve and protect the distinctive characteristics of buildings and places that symbolize the historical and architectural significance of a community. A district can be defined as two properties or an entire neighborhood while a historic property is usually just one parcel. A historic district can include both commercial and residential buildings and even different zoning classifications. Structures within a historic district often differ in architectural style or historical period, but together they relate the historical and architectural development of a place.

Town Green and Woodstock Academy (1873), Woodstock Hill LHD
Town Green and Woodstock Academy (1873), Woodstock Hill LHD

The Connecticut enabling statute (Connecticut General Statutes (CGS) §7-147 Part I, a-m) defines a historic district as “an area, or a cluster of related buildings, or objects and structures, in a compatible setting which, taken as a whole, visually expresses styles and modes of living representative of various periods in American History.” The Historic District Commission (HDC) is an appointed municipal commission that represents the interest of the community in maintaining the architectural and historical integrity of the Local Historic District (LHD). Working with property owners and municipal agencies, the Commission helps to preserve designated historic buildings and structures by reviewing any proposed exterior changes that will be visible from a public way for a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA).

The State or National Register of Historic Places is primarily an honorary designation. These types of designations alone do not restrict owners unless public funding is involved. A local historic district is a district designated by a local ordinance, which falls under the jurisdiction of an appointed historic district commission. Properties within a Local Historic District may also be listed on the State or National Register of Historic Places; historic structures in LHDs established prior to February 2019 were automatically listed on the State Register of Historic Places.

No. One of the main goals of local historic districts is to maintain the overall character of the area. Non-historic properties and vacant lots are often included in local historic district boundaries. Reviewing proposed changes to non-historic properties as well as historic properties ensures that more recent construction will not overwhelm the original architecture in terms of size and scale. If these properties are not included in the district, there is a greater chance that changes to these properties could have a negative impact on the area or on adjacent buildings. For instance, if a multi-story building with a parking lot in front were to be constructed on a vacant lot between two smaller historic homes, it would detract from the neighborhood and lower the value of those homes. The review process ensures that a new building is compatible with its historic neighbors.

No. Only the properties within the legal district boundaries established by the Study Report and approved by ordinance require a Certificate Of Appropriateness (COA) from the Commission. However, Local Zoning regulations will still apply to your project.

The HDC’s role is to rule only on the appropriateness of proposed new construction. Visit local historic districts throughout the state and you will see new construction. New buildings, structures and additions are encouraged to be compatible with, yet distinct from, historic properties. Local design guidelines, when in place, often give specific recommendations for the construction of building additions or new structures in the district.

Design guidelines are the standards that will help the municipality’s historic district commission and property owners understand what changes are appropriate in the district. Through text and illustrations, guidelines show options for alterations, additions, and new construction. Design guidelines are often best developed with input from property owners and residents. You can view and download sample design guidelines for a variety of Local Historic Districts from the Commissioner Resources page.

Exclusions can be written into design guidelines so that general maintenance and repairs with in kind materials are not reviewed even if seen from the public way. By clearly defining the role of the HDC and making expectations for homeowners clear it will keep the process running more smoothly for all.

When a demolition permit application for a structure within a Local Historic District is submitted to municipal officials, typically the building department, an automatic 90-day delay is triggered. This delay period allows community members to identify and work toward alternatives to demolition of a historic building. The specifics of the enabling legislation can be found in C.G.S. Sec. 7-147j(b).

Some municipalities have enacted demolition delay ordinances of up to 180 days. These are separate from the automatic 90 day delay but may run concurrently. Check with your municipal officials to be sure you have all of the information. The purpose of a demolition delay is to give interested parties such as the Department of Economic Development or Preservation Connecticut time to find a purchaser for the building or other alternative to demolition.