The city of Denver’s Preservation Ordinance was created in 1967, just a year after the watershed passage of the National Historic Preservation Act. The ordinance is a framework that supports Denver’s historic districts and individual landmarks, and specifically outlines provisions related to historic designation, design review and demolition review. It is an important to note that these functions are managed by the City & County of Denver, its Landmark Preservation Committee, and the Denver City Council.
There are 52 local historic districts in Denver and over 300 individually land marked properties. Landmark designation is a great tool for preserving the historic fabric of Denver's neighborhoods while encouraging thoughtful and sympathetic improvements and additions. Navigating the ins and outs of what designation means for your property, however, can seem like a daunting task. Below we've compiled a number of questions we frequently receive about designation to highlight the benefits of landmark designation and to shed light on the many misconceptions surrounding the process. The City of Denver's Landmark Preservation Commission also has a list of Frequently Asked Questions. Click here to visit the City's website.
Please note: Historic Denver, Inc is a private, non-profit organization that provides ideas and actions for Denver’s historic places. We do not manage the
city’s designation programs. The Landmark Preservation Commission is the formal city agency responsible for designation and design review. To contact the
Landmark Commission, please visit their website or call them at (720)
Historic designation is one method of ensuring that changes to a neighborhood occur thoughtfully, preserving the fabric of a neighborhood that people love— homes with history, vital dwellings that preserve the past, while acknowledging modern lifestyles. Historic district designation can preserve the essential features of a neighborhood, while permitting contemporary improvements and additions that contribute the historic character of the area.
Of the 50+ areas in Denver that have been designated historic districts, there is no evidence to support a contention of diminished value. The 2011 economic study Property Values and Neighborhood Stability conducted by Clarion Associates of Colorado analyzed the economic impacts of historic preservation in Colorado over the past 20 years. They found that Denver residential property values increased or stayed the same as compared to values in nearby, undesignated areas. For example, the Study states:
“In fact, studies throughout the nation demonstrate that local historic designation programs not only help preserve an area’s historic character, but they can also add value, stability, and desirability to homes and neighborhoods. Local historic designation typically leads to appreciation in property values at rates that are consistent with, and often greater than, rates in similar, non–designated areas.” (pg 23)
“In several of the districts studied, average sale prices for homes within the designated historic district, as well as in the non–designated comparison areas, surpasses the average sale prices for the larger surrounding neighborhoods. This demonstrates that the preservation of historic districts often has a spillover effect into nearby areas, increasing overall desirability of homes in and near a historic district.” (pg 24)
Only exterior changes requiring a permit trigger an additional level of design review in a historic district or individual landmarks. The additional review ensures that the changes are done in a complementary manner to the original structure, the surrounding houses, and the neighborhood.
The following would not be affected by historic designation and do not require design review:
The following would likely be allowed after the design review process:
For more information about the design review process, you can read Historic Denver’s Owner’s Manual for Historic Homes.
Additions to homes in historic districts are reviewed and approved by the Denver Landmark Commission before a building permit is issued. Additions do not have to duplicate the original style and materials, but must be compatible in massing, size, and scale. Many changes can be approved relatively quickly by working with the Landmark Planning staff. For more complex additions and construction, the Landmark Commission meets twice a month to review applications. The Landmark Preservation Commission has an excellent record of approving projects that meet the contemporary needs of the owners while preserving the historic character of the structure.
The process used to designate a structure or district under the local ordinance is much like to processes used in other land use decisions and includes many opportunities for public input. While any member of the community can submit a nomination for designation, in the form of an application, this is just the beginning of the process, which includes:
1) Review by Planning Department staff and the LPC to determine whether the application is complete and meets the criteria.
2) A public hearing before the LPC on the merits of the application and recommendation to council if warranted.
3) Denver Planning Board review of district applications with particular attention to existing city plans.
4) Review by City Council’s Land Use Committee for determination of whether the full Council will consider the matter.
5) First reading and second reading with a public hearing before City Council.
6) City Council decision to designate or not weighing all factors and impacts.
For locally designated homes or commercial buildings, either individual landmarks or contributing structures in a historic district, certain exterior changes do require design review by the Landmark Preservation Commission. Typically design review is required for any change that requires a zoning, building, demolition, revocable or curb cut permit on the exterior of a building and/or its landscape. Examples of the kind of items reviewed include:
Property owners begin the process of design review by submitting an application to the Landmark Preservation Commission staff. Well over half of all applicants are approved administratively in less than two weeks. More significant projects are reviewed by the Landmark Preservation Commission and their twice-monthly meetings. Proposed changes are reviewed in accordance with the City’s adopted Design Guidelines, which are based on the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, a national document published by the Park Service.
To ensure the design review process goes smoothly, owners can contact Landmark Preservation staff early in the planning process for advice and recommendations. Historic Denver is also willing to provide preliminary advice and answer general questions about design review.
In historic districts, only exterior changes to the structure that require a permit receive design review by the Landmark Commission. This review will ensure that the changes are done in a complementary manner to the structure, the surrounding homes, and the neighborhood.
The Guidelines are specific to historic districts and landmarks, and are used by the Commission and staff to review submitted designs. If a residential project involves the exterior of the house and a permit is required for the project (this includes building permit, curb cut permit, demolition permit, revocable permit, zoning construction permit and request for zoning lot amendment) then the project must be reviewed and approved by the Landmark Preservation Commission before the permit will be issued.
The provisions of the Design Guidelines that relate to that particular project will be applied in the design review process. The City’s staff is available to consult with you and provide input, regardless of the need for a permit. Where no permit is required, the Design Guidelines are non-binding.
The city website has helpful information, including application forms and submittal requirements
Provided the appropriate guidelines are followed, here are a few activities that could be eligible for the Colorado State Preservation Income Tax Credit:
The financial benefits can be substantial. Owners of "contributing" properties in historic districts may receive a credit of 20% of their qualified costs up to $250,000 taken over five years, i.e., five annual $10,000 state tax credits.
[Keep in mind that a tax credit is different from -- and much better than -- a deduction. A tax credit allows you to offset your taxes on a dollar-for-dollar basis. A deduction only allows you to reduce your taxable income.]
Between 1991 and 2010, 951 property owners in Colorado have qualified for the state tax credit approval for restoration, renovation, and repair, totaling more than $98.5 million dollars in qualified expenditures.
Costs covered by the tax credits include the "hard costs" associated with the physical preservation of a historic property, covering such aspects as:
Homes more than 50 years old and part of a historic district are eligible for Colorado Historic Preservation Income Tax Credit. In Denver, the Landmark Preservation Commission reviews applications for tax credits. Property owners and tenants with a lease of five or more years are eligible. For more information and to apply for a tax credit, please visit the City of Denver’s Community Planning and Development website.
Both contributing and non-contributing structures require design A historic district can be comprised of both contributing and non-contributing structures. Typically, a designating ordinance for a historic district will include a Period of Significance. Structures that were built within this period are considered contributing unless there have been significant negative alterations and thus loss of historic integrity. Non-contributing structures are those built outside the Period of Significance, or those that have been altered and no longer have historic integrity.
Both contributing and non-contributing structures require design review before permits will be issued. Homeowners of contributing buildings may be eligible for state income tax credits for qualified projects. If not specifically stated in the designating ordinance for a historic district, contributing or non-contributing status will be decided by the Landmark Preservation Commission.
Non-contributing (or non-historic) structures may be approved by the Landmark Commission for demolition without a public hearing. Contributing (or historic) structures is strongly discouraged and can only be approved if economic hardship is established at a public hearing of the Landmark Commission.
Although any alteration to windows in historic districts does require a permit, adding storm windows does not. While not required, the homeowner may opt to consult the City staff and get their input on the proposed project. Storm windows are encouraged, as is renovation and repair of existing windows. The installation of storm windows should be appropriate to the existing architecture.
Installing storm, security or screen doors does not require a permit from the City and therefore may be installed with no involvement by the City. While not required, the homeowner may opt to consult the City staff and get their input on the proposed project. If contacted, the city can provide advice utilizing related Design Guidelines.
There are very specific zoning codes relating to fences whether or not there is a historic district. From the front facade of the house forward to the street, a proposed fence cannot exceed 4 feet in height. (In historic districts, if appropriate, the fence should be "transparent" to maintain the open view plane from the street.) From the front facade of the house back along the property line to the alley, and along the alley, fences can be 6' tall. If taller, they will need a zoning variance.
Substantial fences, or brick or stucco retaining walls, will need permits because of footings required for support posts. Design Review will take into consideration the street character and the impact on the neighborhood when reviewing proposed retaining walls and fences.
Shutters do not require a building permit and may be put up by the homeowner with no involvement by the City. However, as in all projects in historic districts, consideration should be given to the appropriateness of shutters (or any other similar addition) in terms of the original architecture.
If the homeowner decides to consult the City staff (which is not required) the staff will offer advice based on historic documentation. In some instances, the addition of shutters might be discouraged if they do not fit the architectural character of the house. It’s important to note that since no permit is required to install shutters, the advice provided by the City is non-binding.
A neighborhood conservation overlay district is a zoning tool used to preserve, revitalize, protect, and enhance significant older areas within a community beyond what is specified in the standard zoning code. Conservation overlay regulations are applied in addition to standard zoning regulations. Conservation district regulations will differ from neighborhood to neighborhood depending on the area's character and needs.
Typically, conservation districts regulate fewer features and will focus more on significant character defining features, such as lot size, building height, setbacks, streetscapes, and tree protection. Unlike historic districts, conservation districts rarely consider specific elements, such as windows, buildings materials, colors, and decorative details. In addition, most conservation districts do not include demolition delays or prohibitions, a tool utilized in historic districts.
Conservation districts are created through the desire and need of the neighborhood, and must be approved by City Council.
Note: This FAQ was developed by Historic Denver, Inc with material adapted from the work of volunteers in the Washington Park neighborhood. Historic Denver is happy to field questions about designation, as we strive to be a resource. Questions can also be directed to the Landmark Preservation Commission at their website, or you can call them at (720) 865-2709.