Historic District Commission FAQ's
Q. How do I know if my property is located in the Historic District?
A. A map of the Historic District is also available at the City's Website. Visit: Historic District Map. For more information, contact the Keene Planning or Code Enforcement Departments.
Q. When do I need a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA)?
A. If your property is located in the designated Historic District, certain exterior work where there is a change or upgrade in the design, materials, or general appearance of the structure or grounds requires COA approval prior to commencing work. A list of projects which are subject to review is provided in the Historic District Regulations. If you are still unsure about whether or not you need a COA, contact the Planning Department for clarification. Applicants should plan their projects so that COA applications are submitted early enough in the project schedule to modify work plans as needed and obtain approval prior to purchasing materials or commencing work.
Q. How do I get started with this process?
A. When you know that you will be performing any work or alteration to an existing building's exterior, a structure or the site, you should call the Planning Department to set up a pre-application meeting to discuss your project and to determine if a COA is required and what steps will be necessary to receive your COA. Planning Staff will review your proposal with you to classify the project according to the Historic District Regulations. Classifications include Ordinary Maintenance and Repair, Minor Projects and Major Projects.
Q. What is "Ordinary Maintenance and Repair?"
A. Ordinary Maintenance and Repair, which does not require the issuance of a COA, is defined as any work which is done in order to prevent or correct deterioration, decay or damage which does not result in a change to historic appearance or materials or alter the character-defining features of the property.
Q. What is the difference between a "Minor" and "Major" Project?
A. The biggest difference in the COA process is that Minor Projects can receive approval administratively from the Planning Director or a designee of his/her staff while Major Projects require the review and COA issuance by the Historic District Commission. Minor Projects typically refer to smaller alterations while Major Projects are more significant. For a list of what are considered to be Minor and Major Projects, please refer to Section III of the Regulations or inquire at the Planning Department. The Planning Department will determine the classification within 5 days after the pre-application meeting.
Q. What do I need to include in my COA application?
A. In addition to completing the application form, a clearly written project description should be included with your application. Depending on the type of work involved, plot plans, material samples/descriptions, photographs, and dimensioned drawings may be needed in order for Commission members and staff to clearly understand your project and to determine whether or not it meets the Design Standards for the Historic District. Please contact the Keene Planning Department if you have questions about what should be included in your COA application. For Major Projects, it is intended that the applicant and Planning staff work together to develop the best possible application before presenting it to the Historic District Commission in order to expedite the process and make efficient use of time, energy and resources of the applicant, of City staff and of the volunteers that sit on the Commission.
Q. When can I begin work on my project?
A. When you receive your COA approval you may begin your project. For applications that have been approved with conditions, you must demonstrate the conditions have been met prior to commencing work. Please note that you are responsible for obtaining any additional permits that City code or other law may require. Once a submitted application has been deemed complete, a decision to approve, approve with conditions or disapprove the application will be rendered within 45 days.
Q. Is it going to cost me more to make alterations to my property?
A. No, it should not cost you more. Historic districts are intended to ensure that the underlying historic character of the building not be lost in the process of renovation. Regulations will not demand that every old building be restored to its original condition.
Q. Will my taxes go up?
A. Property taxes are tied to real estate value. Properties in historic districts are taxed no differently than those outside the district.
Q. Am I going to be told what color I can paint my building?
A. No, the HDC will not regulate the color of your building. Regulations, however, do prohibit any painting of masonry that has been unpainted prior to these regulations. The City Sign Code limits coloration of signs of no more than five principle colors. It is recommended the overall building color adhere to this policy as well.
Q. How will my property maintenance be supervised and/or regulated?
A. Normal Maintenance and Repair is not subject to review and does not require a COA. If you have any questions about what qualifies, please contact the Planning Department for clarification.
Q. I am planning to upgrade the windows in my building with more energy efficient ones. Do I need to get a permit to do this?
A. Replacing windows in a building which is ranked as a Primary or Contributing Resource will require the issuance of a Certificate of Appropriateness issued by the Historic District Commission in the case of a Major Project and by Planning Department staff in the case of a Minor Project. Replacement of wood windows with wood is required although wood windows clad with aluminum or a material of equal quality can be approved. For buildings ranked as a Non-Contributing or Incompatible Resource, replacement of windows may be approved adminstratively as long as the size of the window openings remains the same.
Q. The brickwork on my building is looking dilapidated and dirty. Can I cover it up with vinyl siding rather than spend a lot of money for a mason?
A. Cleaning of brick and masonry walls with methods other than water washing at garden hose pressure is subject to the issuance of a Certificate of Appropriateness. The use of vinyl or aluminum siding that covers character defining features such as brick and masonry is not allowed in the Historic District.
Q. I would like to replace the slate roof on my buildings. Does this require a permit?
A. Replacement of a slate roof with materials other than slate will require the issuance of a Certificate of Appropriateness. The regulations call for slate to be retained whenever economically feasible. A thorough evaluation of existing slate by an experienced slate expert is encouraged before slate is removed. If slate in the visible portion of a roof warrants replacement, the new material may be synthetic slate similar in form and color to match the existing.
Q. We would like to install a skylight in the roof to give more light to the second floor. Does this require a permit?
A. Installation of a skylight requires a Certificate of Appropriateness and may be allowed if it is not located on a highly visible roof plane, such as a mansard roof facing the street, or a multi-colored slate roof. Skylights must be low profile, have a flat surface and non-reflective colors and frames.
Q. I would like to install a new storm door. Does this require a permit?
A. Installation of storm doors and windows does not require a permit provided that the original architectural features are not altered, removed or demolished.
Q. Does this replace the typical Site Plan Review process or is this in addition to those regulations?
A. Site Plan Review and Historic District Review are two separate processes and are required under separate conditions. Many projects that will require a Certificate of Appropriateness will not trigger a Site Plan Review. There will be some instances, however, where the Site Plan criteria are met and will therefore require both reviews. In this circumstance, Planning Department staff will work closely with the applicant to ensure timely and coordinated progress through application submission and seeking approvals.
Q. Is this different from Development Standard #19?
A. Development Standard #19 states that it is a policy of the City to encourage development to be attractive and consistent with the scale and architectural styles of the community. This standard refers to the overall city while the Historic District Regulations pertain specifically to the delineated downtown area. To avoid duplication of effort, activities requiring the Certificate of Appropriateness are not subject to review under Standard #19.
Q. What happens if I make changes without getting a COA?
A. The City has the authority to enforce these and other regulations through Chapter 1, Section 15 of the City Code. This means that anyone found in violation of code could be subject to fines until the violation is corrected.
Q. The Downtown is fine as it is. Why is the City implementing this new process?
A. In the past, Keene has been very fortunate to have local developers who care about the community participate in recent downtown redevelopment. Their work has become a source of both personal and community pride and has consistently resulted in projects that integrate with and promote the historic character of the downtown. As is evident in other communities and in Keene as well, it is just as easy, or easier, for a developer to disregard the character of the local neighborhood and build the standard commercial prototype building. If not required to do otherwise, national franchises are inclined to build their "typical building" regardless of the site or whether it is occupied by an historic building. Keene has one of the finest downtowns in New England and the buildings that form the streetscape contribute to that character. The purpose of this district is to ensure that new construction and significant renovation are respectful of the existing character.
Q. But won't these additional regulations inhibit economic development?
A. It has been proven in communities all across the country that historic districts do not discourage investment in an area but rather encourage it. Property owners and merchants can be more confident that investments in physical improvements to their buildings and businesses will be protected as a result of predictability about what type of development can occur on adjacent properties. The future neighboring developments' scale and proportion are more likely to fit with, and accentuate what is presently constructed. Therefore, private property's long-term value is more assured because regardless of who your future neighbor may be, the long-term value of your property is, through the Historic District Commission, better protected.
Q. How is the City able to do this?
A. The State of New Hampshire has authorized the establishment of Historic Districts for the "preservation of cultural resources, and particularly of structures and places of historic and architectural and community value is hereby declared to be a public purpose" (RSA 674:45). Through a multi-year public process, the City has developed an Historic District Commission (Chapter 2, Article V, Division 18 of City Code), created the Historic District Overlay Zone (Chapter 102, Article X) and put together Building Regulations governing development in this Overlay Zone (Chapter 18, Article V) all under the direction and limitations set forth by state statute.
Q. How do I get a hold of the Keene Planning Department and who should I talk to?
A. The Planning Department (603-352-5474) is located on the 4th Floor of City Hall at 3 Washington Street and is open during normal business hours (8:30 am - 4:30 pm). Any member of the Planning Staff or even of the Code Enforcement Departments (also on the 4th Floor) will be delighted to help direct you in this process. The Historic District Commission also meets on a monthly basis and you are welcome to attend and discuss your ideas there as all of their meetings are open to the public.