Connecticut Trust For Historic Preservation

A Preservation Ordinance Case Study: Hartford

A Preservation Ordinance for Hartford  

 On May 23, 2005, the Hartford City Council unanimously passed a preservation ordinance for the city. The ordinance will provide limited but significant protections to more than 4,000 Hartford buildings that are in districts listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places. Although local preservation ordinances are recognized as important tools for protecting and enhancing historic resources in many places, Hartford is the first Connecticut municipality to adopt one (see CPN, April/May 2004).   

According to a summary prepared by the City, the purpose of the new ordinance is “to protect the unique architectural nature of the city’s historic neighborhoods so as to enhance the appeal and attractiveness of the city, promote rehabilitation and property maintenance, strengthen the city’s economy, and foster neighborhood pride.”

The ordinance requires the approval of the Historic Properties Commission before the issuance of a demolition or building permit for exterior work in a historic district that is visible from a public street. The ordinance applies to demolition, new construction, and exterior alteration of covered properties within a historic district, but only if the activity requires a building or demolition permit and the alteration is visible from a public street.  It also applies to demolition in areas in which a National Register application is pending. The ordinance does not apply to emergency health and safety orders, to activities outside a historic district, to alterations to the interior of a building in a historic district, to alterations that do not require a city permit (painting, for example), or to exterior alterations not visible from a public street.

The ordinance requires the development of design guidelines to give guidance to property owners as to how to make cost-effective architecturally compatible improvements. It requires the Commission to promote flexibility in materials and design so as to maintain economic feasibility. It requires the Commission to consider economic hardship and sets standards for assessing such hardship. It also precludes the Commission from requiring modifications that will add more than 20 percent to the cost of a proposed alteration but requires the Commission to work with applicants to find architecturally appropriate solutions within those cost parameters. In addition to these regulatory provisions, the ordinance establishes an overall city policy of giving priority to the preservation of the city’s historic architecture and character and requires all city departments to consider historic and architectural significance and preservation when making decisions involving rehabilitation, demolition, and disposition.

For the next step, the city is requesting bids for a consultant to write design guidelines and rules and procedures for the Commission. The ordinance will take effect 30 days after the Council approves the guidelines. It has a three-year sunset date, which means that it must be renewed after three years or it will expire.   

“This is a tremendous first step for the city,” said Laura Knott-Twine, Director of the Hartford Preservation Allliance. “The HPA is delighted with it, and we will be available to help residents of the city find the information and resources that they need.” The Alliance actively promoted the new ordinance. Nina Harkrader, one of the Connecticut Circuit Riders, provided research into preservation ordinances from across the country, made recommendations about provisions to be included in the Hartford ordinance, and testified before the City Council in favor of the ordinance. “This ordinance is especially important because it is the first municipal preservation ordinance passed in Connecticut. We hope it will set a trend for other towns and cities.”

To see more information on Preservation Ordinances in Hartford go HERE>>