An historic overlay zone is an additional layer of regulations for a specific area that is laid over the underlying zoning regulations. The base zoning regulations continue to be administered, but the overlay adds another level of regulations to be considered. Historic Overlay Zoning is when historic district design review is established through a zoning ordinance rather than an independent process such as establishing a Local Historic District (LHD). This Historic Overlay tier is applied to an area considered worthy of preservation because of its architectural, cultural or historic significance.
In Greenwich the historic overlay or HO designation is “a tool used by the Planning and Zoning to encourage retention of notable structures by providing economic incentive through the easing of zoning restrictions in return for permanent deed restrictions including mandatory review of any changes to historic assets.” These individual properties are located outside the town’s three Local Historic Districts and can be designated as either a Historic Residential/Office Zone (HRO) or Historic Overlay Zone (HO). The overlay zone encourages the adaptive re-use of buildings and allows input from the Historic District Commission on appropriate changes. The greatest benefit is that upon completion of the work an easement is granted to the municipality and enforceable by the Historic District Commission.
Terry J. Tondro in “Connecticut Land Use Regulation” states that creating a historic overlay zone “can be a relatively adequate alternative forum for regulating the design and maintaining the character of older buildings and neighborhoods” when a Local Historic District can not be created. However he goes on to say that establishing a Local Historic District is the preferred mechanism in protecting Connecticut’s historic buildings. His concerns are two fold: 1- A Zoning Commission has many other factors to consider when making decisions and building preservation may get lost or ignored in the process; 2- A Zoning Commission has no authority to prevent the demolition of a building, whereas a Historic District Commission can exercise some control over the destruction of building.
Local Historic Districts and Local Historic Properties are applied for by property owners and locally designated and enjoy a high degree of protection. Once designated, no alterations can be made to the exterior without first applying for a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Historic District Commission. There are three Local Historic Districts in Greenwich — Strickland Road and Mill Pond Court district in Cos Cob, the Round Hill Road/John Street district, and the Stanwich district, and three local historic properties, 29 Taconic Road, 640 Round Hill Road and 516 Lake Avenue.
Local Historic Districts and Local Historic Properties have proved to be among the most effective tools for preservation. These designations offer the maximum protection to historic building fabric and ensure that any exterior alterations are consistent with and appropriate for the existing character of the district or property.
Local Historic Districts and Local Historic Property mechanisms are implemented by a locally appointed municipal commission – the Historic District Commission (for the Town of Greenwich) – that has the express authority to review and approve exterior changes to historic properties that are visible from a public way.
In essence the Village Districts Act is a form of Historic Overlay Zoning. The Village District Act is also a zoning tool which can protect a community’s character and historic development patterns. Connecticut PA 98-116 allows municipal zoning commissions to create village districts to preserve historic and scenic resources and VD regulations are a part of the town’s zoning regulations. The scope of the Village District is a little broader than a Local Historic District and can review landscaping, road design, maintenance of public views and all new construction and major reconstruction. Like Historic Overlay Zoning, creating a Village District does not require approval of property owners, municipal government or review by the State Historic Preservation Office but is established by a local zoning ordinance. The creation of a Village District is also a positive alternative to establishing a Local Historic District, if that is not a feasible option.
Interested parties should begin with a call or e-mail to the State Register Coordinator at the SHPO, or visit our website at http://www.cultureandtourism.org. The staff can provide preliminary information on how to prepare a nomination. Staff may request photos or a brief description via e-mail or even schedule a site visit to determine preliminary eligibility.
The State Register of Historic Places is Connecticut’s official listing of structures and sites that characterize the historical development of the state. It was created and authorized in 1975 under Connecticut General Statute 10-321(b)(2) which defined the State Register as an “itemized list locating and classifying historic structures and landmarks throughout the state.
The State Register uses similar criteria for listing as the National Register except that special-case considerations (such as a 50-year age requirement) are not applicable. Properties are listed on the State Register by the SHPO’s Historic Preservation Council following review and recommendation by the SHPO staff. Since 1975, over 75,000 properties owned by private citizens, organizations, municipalities and the State of Connecticut have been listed on the State Register.
The owners of a State Register property or of a property within a State Register district may purchase a plaque from the Connecticut State Historic Preservation Office of the Department of Economic and Community Development. Listing on the Connecticut State Register of Historic Places identifies a recognized historic property but does not prevent the owner from demolishing it nor does it prevent the owner from making changes/alterations to the site.
The National Register nomination process usually starts with the Connecticut State Historic Preservation Office (CT-SHPO). Contact CT-SHPO or check their web page for National Register information, research materials, and necessary forms to begin the nomination process.
Since 1968, more than 50,000 Connecticut properties have been listed in the National Register. Although registration alone does not prevent an owner from altering or demolishing a property, designation does assist preservation efforts in other ways, such as ensuring assessment of impacts from federally sponsored projects, providing eligibility for federal tax credits and, when available, federal grants-in-aid. Listing in the National Register of Historic Places provides formal recognition of a property’s historical, architectural, or archeological significance based on national standards used by every state. Nominations can be submitted to Connecticut State Historic Preservation Office from property owners, historical societies, preservation organizations, governmental agencies, and other individuals or groups.