Historic District Commissions FAQ's

  • When do I need a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA)?

    If your property is located in the designated Historic District and was constructed within the Period of Significance, 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 activities that require a COA from the HDC can be found in section 21.2 of the Land Development Code and can be viewed here. Please contact the Community Development Department to determine whether your project requires review. 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.

  • How do I get started with this process?

    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 Community Development 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 Land Development Code. Classifications include Ordinary Maintenance and Repair, Minor Projects, and Major Projects.

  • What is "Ordinary Maintenance and Repair?"

    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. A list of exempt activities can be found in section 21.3 of the Land Development Code and can be viewed here. Please contact Planning staff to determine if your project qualifies as ordinary maintenance and repair.

  • What is the difference between a "Minor" and "Major" Project?

    The biggest difference in the COA process is that Minor Projects can receive approval administratively from the Community Development 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. To determine your project classification, please contact the Community Development Department.

  • What do I need to include in my COA application?

    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 Planning staff to clearly understand your project and to determine whether or not it meets the HDC’s Streetscape and Site Design Standards, which can be found in section 21.5 of the Land Development Code and the Building Rehabilitation Standards, which can be found in section 21.6 of the Land Development Code. Both sections can be viewed here. Please contact the Keene Community Development 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.

  • When can I begin work on my project?

    When you receive your COA approval you may move forward with any other permitting that may be required before you 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.

  • Is it going to cost me more to make alterations to my property?

    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.

  • Will my taxes go up?

    Property taxes are tied to real estate value. Properties in historic districts are taxed no differently than those outside the district.

  • Am I going to be told what color I can paint my building?

    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.

  • What are the HDC Resource Rankings?

    Buildings within the Historic District are ranked based on their contributing elements to the district as a whole. The four ranking categories are Primary Resource, Contributing Resource, Noncontributing Resource, and Incompatible Resource.

                Primary Resource: A building, structure or site within the Historic District that was present during the Period of Significance and that contributes to the District’s sense of time and place and historical development in a particularly distinctive manner.

                Contributing Resource: Any building, structure, or site within the City's Historic District that contributes to the overall historic and architectural significance of the Historic District and was present during the period of historic significance but which possesses some diminishment of significance due to alterations, disturbances, or other changes to the building, structure, or site. Said diminishment of significance to the Historic District is not so substantial as to prevent the building, structure, or site from possessing historic and architectural integrity reflecting the character of that time or being capable of yielding important information about the historically significant period. Qualities of the building, structure, or site which contribute to the overall historic and architectural significance of the Historic District include but are not limited to setback, massing, height, materials, architectural features, and/or fenestration

                Noncontributing Resource: A building, structure or site within the Historic District that is either less than fifty (50) years old and thus was not constructed within the Period of Significance; or is fifty (50) or more years old and has lost its architectural, historical or cultural integrity due to major alterations or other changes and thus has lost the ability to contribute to the character of the historic district. A Non-Contributing resource may become a Primary or Contributing resource when it becomes 50 years old. It may also become a Primary or Contributing resource if its integrity is restored.

                Incompatible Resource: A building, structure or site within the Historic District that has no historic or architectural integrity and whose setback, massing, scale, height, materials and/or fenestration detract from the character of the district.

  • How do I know that my property's Resource Ranking is?

    The list of ranked properties located within the Historic District is on the HDC’s webpage and can be viewed here.

  • 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?

    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 Community Development 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 administratively as long as the size of the window openings remains the same.

  • I would like to replace the slate roof on my buildings. Does this require a COA?

    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 roof material.

  • Does this replace the typical Site Plan Review process or is this in addition to those regulations?

    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, Community Development Department staff will work closely with the applicant to ensure timely and coordinated progress through application submission and seeking approvals.

  • What happens if I make changes without getting a COA?

    The City has the authority to enforce these and other regulations through section 27.5 of the Land Development Code and Chapter 1, Section 15 of the City Code. This means that anyone found in violation of these regulations could be subject to fines until the violation is corrected.

  • Will these regulations inhibit economic development?

    Preservationists and Real Estate researchers agree that both residential and commercial properties located in the nations’ 2,300+ historic districts retain and increase their value more than comparable properties located outside a historic district. The visual aesthetic and unique historic character of Keene’s downtown are part of the economic formula that draws tourists to the city and the region. For residents, this unique character is part of the placemaking that defines the downtown heart of the City of Keene. The Planning Board’s Architecture & Visual Appearance standards require that new construction harmonize with the City’s distinctive architectural identity, unique character, and prevailing scale. This ensures that new construction within the district will contribute to its overall character and encourages investment while allowing developers the flexibility to create successful projects. These factors contribute to both the value and economic stability of the properties within the district.

  • How is the City able to do this?

    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 a Historic District Commission, which has designated the Keene Downtown Historic District and put together regulations governing development in this district all under the direction and limitations set forth by state statute.

  • How do I get a hold of the Keene Community Development Department and who should I talk to?

    The Community Development Department (603-352-5440) 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 Code Enforcement staff 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. Please contact Planning staff at least 72 hours in advance of the meeting to be placed on the agenda for Conceptual Review.

  • Wouldn't it be better for the environment to demolish an old building and replace it with a new, more energy efficient building?

    Research from the Preservation Green Lab shows that when you compare the overall environmental impact of demolition and construction of a new, more energy efficient building, it can take upwards of 80 years for that new building to offset the environmental impact of its own construction. Simply put, the greenest building is a building that already exists. When looked at a city wide scale, building reuse and retrofitting substantially reduce climate change impacts.

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