Questions and Answers About Historic Districts and Historic Landmark Designations
Iowa City Historic Preservation Commission June 1998

Q: What is a historic district?

A: A historic district is an area that contains contiguous pieces of property under different ownership which:
     1. are significant to either American or Iowa City history, architecture, archaeology, and culture;
     2. possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials and workmanship;
     3. are associated  with events that have made a significant contribution to our history or are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past;
     4. embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction; represent the work of a master; possess high artistic values; represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or
    5.  have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in history.

Q: What is a historic landmark?

A: A historic landmark is an individual building, structure, object, archaeological site, area of land, or element of landscape architecture which meets the criteria listed above for historic districts, is designated as a historic landmark by the Historic Preservation Commission and is approved as such by the City Council.

Q: What special restrictions apply to property designated either as a historic landmark or as part of a historic district?

A: When an owner of a designated building wishes to make exterior alterations which require a building permit, a demolition permit or a moving permit, a certificate of appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Commission is required. The Commission issues a certificate after is has reviewed the project and determined that the proposed changes are in keeping with the character of the property and the surrounding district. The Commission evaluates each project using the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation. February 1990. The review process generally takes less than two weeks. For projects which do not require a building permit, such as painting, the installation of gutters or routine maintenance, no certificate is required.

Q: Who are the Historic Preservation Commissioners?

A: The commission members are citizen volunteers from Iowa City who have been appointed to three-year terms by the City Council. They are either residents of a historic district or individuals who possess an interest as well as some expertise or experience in history, architecture, building construction, archaeology, or other related field. Any citizen may apply to become a member of the Historic Preservation Commission as vacancies arise.

Q: What is the Historic Preservation Commission's track record of approving applications for certificates of appropriateness?

A:  Since its creation in 1982, the Commission has never denied a certificate. This is due to the fact that the Commission works with individual property owners so that plans for proposed alterations are appropriate and in keeping with the character of the property and the surrounding district.

Q: How long will it take me to obtain a certificate of appropriateness?

A: Normally, an applicant will not have to wait longer than 30 days for the Historic Preservation Commissionís decision. The Commission meets regularly on the second Thursday of each month, and additional meetings may be scheduled as needed.

Q: If I donít like the decision of the Commission regarding my remodeling project, what can I do?

A: Decisions regarding historic districts and landmarks may be appealed to the City Council.

Q: If my property lies with a historic district or is Designated by the City as a historic landmark, will I have to fix it up or restore it?

A: No. A historic designation neither prevents private property owners from making changes nor forces owners to make improvements to their property. It does not limit the use of the building, require owners to erect plaques or make the property accessible or open to the public.

Q: Are there any restrictions on the sale of a property in a historic district?

A: No.

Q: Will the City tell me what color I may paint my house?

A: No. Painting is not subject to review by the Historic Preservation Commission, although if asked, the Commission will provide assistance in the selection of a color scheme appropriate for the structure.

Q: If my property is designated, will I have to get permission from the Commission to landscape the property or erect fences?

A: No, unless the work involved requires a permit.

Q: Are there any advantages in owning property located in a historic district?

A: District designation is intended to project you from inappropriate, neighborhood-busting development of property adjacent to yours. It may also enhance the value of the property an make funding available for its renovation.

Q: How will the value of my property be affected if designated?

A: Many considerations determine the value of a home, but locally and nationally, designated and protected properties have experienced an increase desirability and value.

Q: If my house is designated either as a historic landmark or as part of a historic district, what benefits can I expect as a result?

A: Historic districts offer protection from inappropriate demolition, alternation or construction by a neighbor. Owners of historic properties may be eligible for financial aid, since in the past, federal and state grants have targeted older houses, particularly older houses that help make up a historic district. Finally, as the owner of a historic property, you help increase the public awareness of historic buildings and promote a sense of pride in past achievements.

Q: Are there any tax advantages in owning a designated historic property?

A: The Historic Properties Tax Exemption program, provided for in the State Code of Iowa and enacted by the Johnson County Board of Supervisors in 1997, allows counties to freeze increases in the assessed value of real estate that may otherwise result from the certified rehabilitation of a designated historic property. Additionally, if your property is a commercial or rental property that is added to the National Register of Historic places, you may be eligible for tax credits for rehabilitation work.

For more information contact
 The Iowa City Department of Planning and Community   Development 
 410 E. Washington Street 
 Iowa City, Iowa 52240 

 ( 319) 356-5230 


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