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Preparing the Report of the Study Committee

Preparing the Report of the Study Committee

The Study Committee Report is a pivotal document and serves a twofold purpose:

in the period prior to establishing the LHD or LHP designation, the Study Committee Report serves to educate local officials, property owners, and the general public about the content and significance of the proposed historic area;
in the period following the establishment of the HDC or HPC, the Study Committee Report provides the basic reference that will guide the actions of HDC or HPC members, town officials, and property owners.

The report of the Study Committee should be presented in a format that is clear and easily distributed.  It should make a persuasive case for why a particular building or area should be designated and preserved.  The Study Committee Report will also provide theHDC or HPC members and property owners with information that will guide them in making decisions about the maintenance and preservation of properties within the LHD.

The commission charged with administering the LHD or LHP will turn to the Study Committee Report for statements of historical and architectural significance on which to base its decisions.  At the most basic level, the Study Committee Report should document and evaluate the architectural features and historical associations that represent the heritage of the community. 

LHDs and LHPs preserve the physical evidence of historical persons, places, and events that are a part of town history.  Clues to how earlier generations lived and thought about themselves and their world are found in the physical layout of the town, the construction methods and materials, and the styles of architecture. This kind of material should be recorded in the Study Committee Report.

CCT maintains an archive of study reports generated by communities throughout the state.  CCT staff members are available for consultation and guidance during the compilation of the Study Committee Report. Grants may be available from the CCT, the CTHP, and other sources to enable study committees to hire professional historians or architectural historians to contribute to the body of the report. 

The usefulness and completeness of the Study Committee Report can make a pivotal difference in the acceptance of an LHD or LHP by the community and in the ability of a commission to function fairly and effectively once established.

The Study Committee’s work can be made easier by taking advantage of existing documentation and resources, including:

1.  Previous Research

The Study Committee should check with the staff of the CCT and with local officials and town historians to see if any town histories, house tours, architectural studies, or other research is already on file for the area of the proposed district or property. Amending or adding to existing research is easier than starting from scratch.

2.  Forms       

The Statewide Historic Resource Inventory offers a standardized format for compiling existing information and adding new information about historic properties. The form provides a checklist to record physical data about a building, additional fields for ownership information, and space for narrative statements concerning the architecture, history, and significance of each property, as well as bibliographic citations and photographic documentation. Electronic versions of the inventory forms are available on the CCT Web site in a format that allows them to be filled out and saved.

Inserting this information in the Study Committee Report may be as simple as copying or annotating the existing inventory forms. Nominations to the State and National registers of historic places also contain detailed descriptions of architectural appearance and historical significance of buildings, sites, and structures. The information compiled on the forms will provide much of the material from which the statement of historic significance in the report can be developed.

3.   Boundary Delineation

Determining a logical and justifiable boundary is a critical step in designating an LHD or LHP.  The CCT has extensive experience in this area, and staff may arrange on-site visits to advise the Study Committee.

Research into the historical development of an area under consideration will often suggest logical boundaries based on historical themes and periods. Visual continuity of the historic streetscape is another important determining factor. Empty lots, modern development, or strip development might mark the visual limits or edges of a district where the historical or architecture integrity is no longer dominant.

Boundaries are usually based on historical and architectural factors, but can be subject to discussion and compromise by the Study Committee, local property owners, and municipal officials. Connecticut’s enabling statute for LHDs requires approval by two-thirds of the voting property owners who would be affected by the proposed district.

The prospects for property owner approval may be a powerful consideration in a potential LHD or LHP. A Study Committee may initially recommend a small district that has clear support from property owners, but the district must be contiguous and cannot include any gaps or holes. The boundary delineation must be credibly based on the architectural character and historical development of the area.

It is possible to reduce or amend the boundaries of a proposed LHD or LHP to encompass the most important properties and the most supportive property owners, even if some significant structures are initially left out of the district.  After the public hearing and before the report goes to the town clerk, boundaries of a proposed district can be adjusted at any time.

Some of the resources for outlining district boundaries include:

a.      Historical and Contemporary Maps

Historical maps record the history and evolution of the community by depicting roadways, waterways, open spaces, villages, hamlets, and mill sites, as well as the spatial relationships between buildings at a particular point in time. The atlases issued for every county in Connecticut between 1867 and 1874 are a good place to start. These detailed maps record the location of roads, houses, stores, shops, and other buildings, often with the name of the owner.  The maps also reveal the general patterns of development, the size of house and farm lots, the shape of buildings, and the relationship to outbuildings. Copies of these atlases are available at the Connecticut State Library and the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford.

The Sanborn Map Company of New York prepared detailed maps of most Connecticutcities in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for the use of fire insurance companies. The maps identify historic uses and building materials by a color-coded system.

Lithographed views from a conjectural aerial perspective (often termed “bird’s-eye views”) provide a detailed and remarkably accurate record of the appearance of manyConnecticut towns and cities during the same period.  These panoramic views, prepared by skilled draftsmen, often include a numbered key to identify the most prominent buildings in town.

Older visual sources include the descriptions and woodcut illustrations in John Warner Barber’s Connecticut Historical Collections, first published in 1836.  The small woodcuts prepared for each chapter are sometimes the earliest perspective views of a community. Other maps, town plans, paintings, or other illustrations may be available locally.

Historical maps and views should be compared with the information depicted on recent tax assessors’ maps (which are based on aerial photographs) and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) maps to understand how the area has changed over time and what early historic spatial relationships may still exist. Many of the maps are available online through sources such as University of New Hampshire (http://docs.unh.edu) and www.MyTopo.com.

Online and digital data sets such as Google Maps, Google Earth, MapQuest, and Bing Maps can be helpful in locating historical resources and tracing logical boundaries.

b.      Criteria for Rural Districts Versus Urban Districts

The proposed boundaries for districts in rural and urban areas may use slightly different criteria, as may the boundaries for LHDs and LHPs. CCT has defined a rural setting as a developed area surrounded by natural features such as ridges, bodies of water, farmland, or other natural topographical features. An urban setting, by contrast, is a developed area defined by engineered or built features such as roadways, parks, or other neighborhoods.

i.        Rural Districts

For a rural district or for an individual historic property, the discussion of potential boundaries might consider:

Common ownership or related development patterns, either historical or contemporary
The functional relationships between buildings and the adjacent natural resources
The visibility of buildings and structures from the public way (including public trails and navigable waterways);
The qualities of the cultural landscape, including mill dams, stone walls, quarries, and cultivated fields

In rural areas, the development of open areas immediately adjacent to an LHD or LHPcan have a profound impact on the character of the district. Proposed boundaries should provide a protective buffer around historic buildings or sites to prevent them from becoming isolated in an incompatible environment.

ii.      Urban Districts

For urban districts, the discussion of potential boundaries might consider:

Whether the area was laid out and developed incrementally or as a whole
Traditional names and unofficial boundaries of a village, hamlet, or neighborhood
Physical features (man-made or natural) which define the area or constrained the pattern of development, including shorelines, ridges, wetlands, outcroppings, steep slopes, parks, and town greens

In urban areas more often than in rural areas, a change in architectural character may reflect a different phase of development and may be a factor in determining district boundaries. The character of the streetscape as a whole should be evaluated in determining district edges and the relationship between existing buildings.

c.      Sight Lines

If a district is surrounded by open fields, the sight line should be established from the roadway or main public way. A ridgeline, hedgerow, stream, or other natural feature may suggest a likely boundary. Boundary lines are more effective when they trace the lot lines of specific properties rather than being based on a generic description such as “200 feet from the road.” 

The boundaries of the proposed LHD or LHP should be visible from the public way, since that will determine which elements are subject to review.  While a standard boundary setback may produce a straighter or simpler boundary line, it may also exclude outbuildings and portions of irregular parcels that are important to the whole fabric and appearance of the district. 

If a boundary is measured from the road, it should extend from the centerline of the road and not from the shoulders, since the centerline represents a fixed point legally. This precaution has become particularly important since the revision of the state enabling statute in 1980 which brought fences, walls, lighting fixtures, and other freestanding structures under historic district jurisdiction except on state roads under the jurisdiction of the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

d.      Historic Properties

Historic properties may include not only an individual building but also any related outbuildings or structures on the property. In many cases, existing lot lines will define boundaries for the historic property.

The enabling statute stipulates that only “real property used in connection with” the individual historic building may be included within the boundaries of a designated LHP.  In the case of large farms or estate grounds, designed landscapes and open areas may themselves possess historical significance and could be included within the boundaries.

4.      Evaluation of Historic Resources

The evaluation process considers which buildings and structures should be preserved and documents the level of historical and architectural significance for the community. Evaluation is focused on three areas: (a) history, (b) architecture, and (c) context.

a.      Evaluating Historical Significance

The LHD or LHP should exhibit some visible aspect of the history of the neighborhood, town, city, region, or state. It is important to identify and develop the historical themes that have been influential in shaping the town or city, its role in history, and its architecture.

Themes to consider are the area’s economic contributions (agricultural, industrial, educational); its political contributions (colonial settlement, county seat, governmental structure); its cultural contributions (religion, ethnicity, folk traditions, fine arts); and its social contributions (community leaders, major achievements, notable personalities).  Local events or trends should be tied to the history of the region, state, or nation.

i.        Individual Structures

A central aspect of the evaluation is to identify the connections between local building types and the historical development of the community. Industrial workers’ housing, barns and farmhouses, theaters and civic buildings all provide insight into a community’s history. Other types of resources to be considered include the birthplaces, residences, and even summer homes of people associated with political, social, economic, spiritual, and cultural aspects of life in the town, state, or nation.  Some places in Connecticut have inspired major works of art and music like the colonies of Impressionist painters that flourished in Cos Cob and Old Lyme in the early twentieth century.

ii.      Interrelationships and Organization

The evaluation should take into account the relationship of buildings to one another and to the adjacent natural and built resources. The setback and orientation of buildings and the spacing between buildings may define the character and rhythm of a particular neighborhood.

The organization and arrangement of buildings, as well as the physical evolution of the community, provide insight into the history and development of the area.  Many LHDs inConnecticut are centered on a traditional village green, an industrial mill site, or an important crossroads.

iii.     Evolution

LHDs and LHPs may have significant buildings or structures associated with several distinct periods of development. The appearance of individual buildings and their spatial relationships may have changed over time in response to new technology, transportation improvements, or changing tastes. Many village greens, for example, did not acquire their present park-like character until after the Civil War. Historical societies and public libraries have collections of maps, prints, and photographs that can reveal aspects of transformation within a potential LHD or LHP.

iv.     Historic and Prehistoric Archaeology

Archaeological sites, both historic and prehistoric, may be designated as LHPs. Archaeological sites that are known or suspected within an LHD are usually noted in the evaluation even if no visible buildings or structures exist.

b.      Evaluating Architectural Character and Integrity

Historic preservation designation helps a city or town recognize and preserve the architectural characteristics that define the local community for residents and visitors alike. The LHD or LHP should be recognizable from the public way by its distinctive historic and architectural character. Newer buildings and structures that conform to the established development pattern or streetscape may be included within the LHD or LHP.

i.        Architectural Styles and Periods

The character of a building or structure is partially represented by the architectural style, materials, construction techniques, and intended uses.  Some buildings may incorporate features of one or more architectural styles, or they may be so simple and functional that they are not easily classified by style.  Useful architectural guides include the Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia and Lee McAlester (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984),Identifying American Architecture by John J-G. Blumenson (Nashville: AASLH, 1981), and the Visual Dictionary of American Domestic Architecture by Rachel Carley (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1994). Others are listed in the bibliography.

A potential LHD or LHP may include not only the oldest houses, but also examples of buildings from different time periods. Given the state’s long history, Connecticut cities and towns are rarely homogeneous.

Most historic districts include buildings of many styles and eras that reveal the evolution of the community, the impact of historical forces, changes in the economic base,and shifts in popular taste.  Since the history of a community is continuous, even mid-century modern buildings such as residences, schools, and office buildings may be good examples of particular architectural styles and construction techniques.

ii.      Outbuildings

The evaluation of historic resources should include smaller structures and outbuildings that are visible from the public way. Carriage houses, barns, privies, sheds, garages, and pool houses represent significant historical developments and may reflect the architectural designs common to their period. The Field Guide to New England Barns and Farm Buildings by Thomas D. Visser (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1997) is a useful key to understanding the age and function of many agricultural structures.

iii.     Architectural Features

Architectural features and landscape structures (fences, walls, dams, or spillways) that contribute to the character of the LHD or LHP should be included in the evaluation. Buildings may represent a variety of architectural styles over time, or one particular style from a period of local prosperity may stand out.  Characteristic features may include architectural design elements (porches, turrets, windows, and door surrounds); materials (brick, stone, wood, stucco, glass, or steel); and methods of construction (timber framing, balloon framing, load-bearing masonry, steel skeleton).  The scale, setback, and massing or form of the buildings also help to define the visual character of the LHD or LHP. 

iv.     Alterations

Noting the sequence of change over time is another way to appreciate the community’s history.  In some Connecticut towns, modest older homes were expanded and upgraded during the Colonial Revival period of the early twentieth century.  Others were modernized to suit current tastes.  Still others have been restored to a represent either the original appearance or a particular period in the building’s history.

LHD and LHP designations are not intended to freeze buildings in time.  Buildings may reflect changes in appearance or function that are an important part of their history.

v.      Physical Setting

In some communities the pattern of open spaces (lot lines, yards, and driveways) and the arrangement of public amenities (benches, streetlamps, sidewalks, tree belts) define a particular spatial relationship that is representative of a certain historical period.  Municipally installed structures form a part of the streetscape even though they are not subject to HDC review.  All of these features work together to define the physical setting for the buildings and are important to preserve.

c.      Evaluating Context

The context of the LHD or LHP is the way that the buildings and landscapes work together to form a cohesive whole. Districts may have intrusions such as vacant lots, parking areas, older buildings that have been extensively remodeled, or new buildings that interrupt the traditional development pattern.  The context evaluation should focus on the dominant features that define the overall character of the historic area.

5.      Ordinance

The report of the Study Committee will include a draft of the proposed local ordinance or ordinances. The LHD or LHP ordinance empowers the related commission and defines its jurisdiction and authority under the state enabling statute. The ordinance instructs the commission in its functions, duties, and powers.

Connecticut’s enabling legislation for LHDs and LHPs (CGS, Section 7-147a to 7-147y inclusive) is very detailed and specific.  It should be used as a guide for preparing the draft local ordinance, which may be amended later by the local legislative body.

The CCT will review and comment upon draft ordinances in advance as part of the standard review process, but the LHD or LHP designation is a local ordinance. For municipalities, the town attorney or corporation counsel should review the draft ordinance before it is included in the Study Committee Report.

It is imperative that the local ordinance contain a clause stating that the HDC or HPC is empowered to exercise all the powers, duties, and functions enumerated in CGS, Section 7-147a to 7-147k inclusive, or Section 7-147p to 7-147y inclusive, as amended. This provision will provide a legal basis for a commission’s decision on a matter covered in the statutes but not specifically spelled out in the local ordinance.

The presence of a similar clause in certain local ordinances has been a crucial factor in validating the constitutionality of Connecticut HDCs and HPCs and justifying their decisions before the law. Questions about the enabling legislation and its relation to the local ordinance should be addressed to the municipal attorney.

6.      Photographic Documentation

Photographic documentation is not required as part of the Study Committee process, butit is very helpful in building support for an LHD or LHP.  A selection of current and historical photographs, maps, and other illustrations will be informative to anyone reviewing the Study Committee Report.  A good recent photograph of each building provides a useful point of reference and may be complemented by historic views, particularly of streetscapes and public spaces.

The Study Committee may wish to work in partnership with the local historical society or the local library to compile an index of old photographs and views for use by property owners, researchers, commissioners, and town officials, or for attachment to the Study Committee Report.

7.      Report Contents

To be considered complete, the Study Committee Report must include four required items:  (1) an analysis of the historical and architectural significance of the proposed district,(2) a general description of the proposed district with the number and age of buildings, (3) a map showing the exact boundaries of the proposed LHD or LHP, and (4) a proposed ordinance.  Additional items may be included in the Study Committee Report in order to document the process and support the recommendations.

a.      Analysis

The first section details the historical significance and architectural character of the buildings, structures, places, or surroundings to be included in the proposed LHD or LHP. While some history of the area may be cited, the analysis should emphasize and explain why these properties are significant in their current form.  The section may outline the criteria for the proposed district, identify any recent or potential threats to the character of the district, and explain how the LHD or LHP ordinance could benefit the community.

b.      Description

The second section details the number and age of all the buildings included within the boundaries of the proposed LHD or LHP. The report should include an index of all the properties in the proposed district – including those that are vacant or not historic – organized by street address. The index should include the street address of each property, the date of construction, the historic name of the property, the architectural style, and a summary of the total number of buildings and properties in the proposed district. Copies of historic resource inventory forms may be included as part of the report.

c.      Boundaries and Map

The third section describes the specific boundaries of the proposed LHD or LHP. The criteria and justification for the boundaries should reference historical patterns of development as well as the current visual appearance of the proposed district.  A narrative description of the boundary must be included.

The report must include a map of sufficiently large scale showing:

i.       The exact boundaries of the proposed LHD or LHP, including north arrow, street names, scale, title, date, and a legend

ii.     The property lines of individual properties to be included, in whole or in part, in the proposed LHD or LHP, with the total boundary of each property in the proposed LHD or LHP shown, even if it is proposed to include only a portion of a specified property

iii.    The assessor’s parcel code used to link each property with other town records.

d.      Draft Ordinance

The fourth section is a complete draft of the proposed ordinance under the authority of the state enabling statute.  The draft ordinance should outline how the LHD or LHP is to be created and how the HDC or HPC will operate.  The language of the ordinance should be reviewed by the town attorney or corporation counsel prior to its inclusion in the Study Committee Report.

The report may also include draft regulations and procedures for the administration of the LHD or LHP in accordance with the state enabling statute.

e.      Supplemental Items

In addition to the four required components, the Study Committee Report may include other material that helps to explain or justify the proposed LHD or LHP designation:

i.       An introduction explaining what an LHD or LHP is, why the designation is needed, and how it will benefit the community

ii.     Names of the Study Committee members and others involved in the preparation of the report

iii.    A statement of methodology explaining why and when the Study Committee was created, why it chose this property or area for consideration, how residents and property owners have been involved in the process, and how the Study Committee reached its conclusions

iv.    Good-quality record photographs showing significant structures in the proposed district and multiple views of the streetscape or district from various points along the public way

v.      A copy of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties (36 CFR Part 68) to give property owners an idea of how exterior changes might be reviewed. Specific local guidelines will be drafted by the HDC or HPC after the proposed district is approved.