By Candis Meredith
Most of the houses that Andy and I renovate and restore are old enough to be historic but aren’t actually zoned or legally classified as historic buildings. That gives us a lot more freedom to work with updates and upgrades, landscaping, and even the color of the house. There’s actually a pretty big difference between renovating a house that has a lot of history in a beautiful neighborhood and renovating a historic building in a historic district.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t choose properties in historic districts. These areas are almost always charming, and it can be a lot of fun to bring a house back up to its original level of beauty and charm. If you’re working in a historic district, though, you’re going to have to pay attention to zoning restrictions that could affect what you’re allowed to do to the outside of the property.
What Are Historic Districts and Why Do They Exist?
The idea of a historic district is pretty simple. It’s an area or neighborhood with a lot of buildings that were designed and constructed during a certain historic era. These areas are zoned as historic districts with the purpose of preserving the history of the buildings and the area so that residents and visitors can get a taste of what it was originally like to live there.
As a result, historic zoning is a little bit different from the kinds of zoning you’re probably used to. When you buy a house to renovate, you know that you won’t be allowed to tear it down and put in a convenience store because the property is zoned for residential use only. But that zoning won’t affect what colors you can paint the house or what improvements you can make (as long as you have all the necessary permits).
What Can Historic Zoning Affect?
That’s not the case with historic zoning. If you’re renovating in a historic district, historic zoning can affect what color paint you use; the color or materials of your roof; the size, type, and placement of your windows and doors; the materials you use for your house’s exterior; the type and location of any fencing; and much more. In fact, if you’re making a change to the exterior of the building or the property, it will probably be affected by the historic zoning in the area.
Getting Approved for Renovations
Fortunately, if you’re like us and you really want to recreate the house’s original beauty, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting approval for all of your renovations. You’ll just meet with the historic district’s commission staff to discuss your plans and show them that you’re keeping the building in the same style as the era when it was built. Then you’ll file an application for approval, which will be reviewed and approved, and you’ll move forward with your renovations.
Fortunately, you probably won’t have to go through this process for any of your interior updates and renovations. These commissions are concerned with the look and feel of the neighborhood, not any changes made on the insides of the homes there. It’d be pretty rough if you had to get approval for a new kitchen in a historic home, but for the most part, when we’re talking about historic districts, you won’t have to worry about getting rejected for your interior designs.
If you’re a history and architecture buff like me and Andy, you probably won’t have any trouble renovating in a historic district. Just be sure to check with the appropriate local authorities before you make any changes to the outside of the house.