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Local Preservation: Local Historic District Zoning

bristol hdc
Bristol's local historic district

A local historic district zone is a special zoning area created by a community to help save historic buildings and to preserve the special sense of time and place that exists in some parts of a community. When a community adopts historic district zoning, it monitors and guides construction activity in its historic areas.

The city or town council must pass an ordinance to establish a historic district commission and to identify areas for designation as historic district zones.

In a local historic district zone all exterior alterations and new construction must be reviewed and approved by the historic district commission. This review ensures that the historic character of the buildings is maintained when necessary changes are made.

The historic district commission only reviews changes proposed by the property owner. When the owner applies for a building permit, the historic district commission will review the proposed work. Each commission has its own written procedures and standards which will help a property owner in preparing for review.

Which communities have local historic district zoning?

Bristol, Coventry, Cranston, Cumberland, East Greenwich, East Providence, Glocester, Hopkinton, New Shoreham, Narragansett, Newport, North Kingstown, North Providence, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, Providence, South Kingstown, and Warwick; Warren has a voluntary historic district zone.

How are changes to a historic building evaluated?

There are general principles which should guide the rehabilitation of historic buildings. The most common formulation of these general principles or standards is known as the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation. Many local historic district commissions have adopted these standards as their own.

How does the review process work?

The property owner's application for a building permit begins the review process. If the building official finds that a property is located in a local historic district zone, he or she forwards the permit application to the local historic district commission, which usually holds monthly meetings.

The local commission needs clear information about the proposed changes. Property owners should check with local officials to find out about the application procedures.

Applications for building permits are reviewed at the regular meetings of the local historic district commission. After any needed adjustments, the approved application is stamped, and the building official may issue a building permit.

Decisions of the local historic district commission are binding for the building official, but may be appealed to the local zoning board. The zoning board's decision can be appealed in the state courts.

Which projects are reviewed by the local historic district commission?

All building projects which affect the exterior appearance of a building in a designated historic district zone are reviewed by the local commission. Paint colors and interior changes are not reviewed by the commission. Commissions draw on a large body of knowledge to advise homeowners on the most cost-effective methods of construction or replacement. Historic district commissions do not regulate the use of buildings. The allowable uses for a building are determined by a community's zoning ordinance.

What is the main disadvantage of historic district zoning?

Preparing applications to the historic district commission may require extra time and effort before construction begins. The time and effort on the part of the homeowner is usually offset, however, by the expertise and constructive review of the historic district commission and staff, and a more successful construction project.

What is the main advantage of historic district zoning?

Historic district zoning protects a neighborhood's historic architecture, which largely defines its sense of place. Thoughtless alterations to historic buildings can erode property values and destroy the qualities that make a neighborhood appealing.

Does local historic district zoning raise property taxes?

No. Property taxes are based on fair-market value, which is determined by real estate market forces and includes considerations of location, condition, size, and amenities.

For more information...

Contact your local historic district commission or preservation society. Questions about the specific zoning guidelines for your town or city should be directed to the historic district commission or the planning office. For general information about historic district zoning email Jeffrey Rosenberg or call him at (401)222-4131.