Historic District How-To
A Step by Step Guide

Are you interested in proposing a historic district for your neighborhood?  Local historic district designation is most common form of historic designation in Denver, and the most useful in terms of offering protection from demolition and design review.  You can read more about historic designation in our Resources section. Ultimately a formal application must be submitted to the Denver Landmark Commission and then approved by City Council, but there are many steps to take before initiating the formal process.  Follow the steps below to get started!

Historic Denver can help you get started, speak at community meetings, and provide information about the designation process and provide research advice so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel! You can also apply for direct support from Historic Denver through our Action Fund.

As a reminder, Historic Denver is a non-profit advocacy organization and does not grant historic designations- we provide support through the process, which is conducted through the City & County of Denver, Community Planning & Development Department and the Denver Landmark Commission.

1) Review the Requirements
The City of Denver processes local landmark designations.  You can find the required criteria, application, and sample applications on the Denver Landmark website.  If you are interested in State Register or National Register visit our designation page for more information.

2) Form an Exploratory Committee
Identify neighbors who are interested in designation and organize a committee to lead the effort, conduct volunteer tasks, raise funds, and demonstrate grassroots support. This group must be committed to seeing the project through from beginning to end. Also, make contact with your Registered Neighborhood Organization (RNO) if one is active in your area.

3) Agree on Preliminary District Boundaries
Using initial understanding about an area’s history and geography establish a preliminary boundary for the proposed district. The boundary may shift some as additional research is completed. Selecting a smaller, more cohesive area is generally more manageable than selecting a very large area, but historic districts range in size from one block to several hundred homes.

4) Check-in with the Denver Landmark Commission
Before you get too far it’s wise to check-in with the Denver Landmark Commission staff. You can review the requirements for historic districts, discuss what makes for a strong application, and gain important feedback and guidance regarding whether the area is likely to meet the eligibility criteria. You can reach the staff at landmark@denvergov.org.

5) Create A Map & Survey
With the preliminary boundaries agreed upon, create a map of the proposed area. Conduct a “windshield” survey, photographing each property and researching its year of construction through the Denver Assessor’s office. This will help establish a period of significance for the district, which is essential in defining which properties are “contributing” and which are “non-contributing” (because they were built at a later time or lack integrity).

6) Conduct Research
Conduct research on the history, architecture and geography of the proposed district, highlighting particularly important properties. Some neighborhoods elect to conduct this research on their own using dedicated volunteers who are willing to put in significant time to visit the library to research individual properties, larger historical trends affecting the area, and the common architectural styles. Other neighborhoods elect to hire consultants to do this work. For suggested consultants please contact Historic Denver.

7) Host an Informational Meeting
It is important to host at least one district-wide meeting early in the process. This provides property owners the opportunity to learn more about the process, express concerns and ask questions. Provide written information so owners have something to refer to during the meeting and once they go home. We suggest using Historic Denver’s FAQ on historic designation. This meeting can be held at the very beginning of the effort, or after initial research is complete, but should definitely take place before a designation application is submitted. Be sure to publicize the meeting widely.

8) Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!
Communication early and often is key to the success of any historic district proposal. Be sure to reach out to all property owners in the proposed district with basic information by delivering fliers door to door, sending registered letters, and posting on neighborhood social media outlets. This should be done at several stages of the process and in advance of any public hearings. Keep a list of each outreach effort to demonstrate that ample effort was put into informing all property owners about the project.

9) Create a Petition
Successful historic district applications will demonstrate significant support from those affected. Develop a petition where you can track owners that support the designation, owners that oppose the designation, and owners who are neutral. Make a concerted effort, through your outreach, to connect with all property owners. Identifying a block captain for each block affected by the district may help. Plan to present the petition/list to the Landmark Commission and City Council.

10) Prepare & Submit the Designation Application
Applications must be thorough and well-researched and demonstrate that the proposed district meets the criteria established in Denver’s Landmark Preservation Ordinance; these criteria include architecture, history and geography. Applications must also identify which properties are “contributing” and which are “non-contributing.” Again, this can be done by volunteers or by a professional consultant. The application form, instructions, and samples can be found at denvergov.org/preservation. The application, along with the required fee, is submitted to the Landmark Preservation Commission.

11) Attend Public Hearings & Meetings
Once your application is submitted a formal process begins, and there will be several opportunities for property owners to provide their perspective. The Landmark Commission will hold a public hearing, and if they recommend the application, City Council will also host a public hearing. It is important to demonstrate great support at these hearings, so publicize them to all property owners and rally supporters to attend.

12) Celebrate Success!