Simple HP Review, Survival & Certificate of Appropriateness

Completing the historic preservation review process and earning your first certificate of appropriateness may sound a little tedious but it doesn't have to be. Taking the right approach, the process can be straightforward and instructive while providing a neat lesson on your community’s traditional building methods. Earning a certificate of appropriateness (COA) for the Mesta Park project involved a learning curve but we were rewarded with a distilled understanding of the process - one that should ring true in any community.

Submitting for historic preservation (HP) review on larger, more extensive projects is arduous, and earning a COA in one of Oklahoma City's official Historic Preservation Districts is no giveaway. Our HP review project faced the added complexity of adding a large split-level addition to the home.

The documentation produced to earn the COAs (there were 3 issued) for the Mesta Park renovation encompassed over 50 pages of Word-formatted documentation, 150+ emails and a full set of architectural plans detailing the proposed design. Take heart;  not all historic projects require this much documentation! 

Value in a Historic Preservation Ordinance


Not every municipality has adopted a historic preservation ordinance (HPO) with referenced design guidelines. But, without regulation, the districts often suffer from disinvestment, delayed maintenance, and inappropriate materials. Residents usually have the best intentions and want their property to appreciate, but lack the understanding to maintain historic properties with modern materials and methods. Are vinyl windows okay? Can I paint masonry? Would an animated LED sign look good on Main Street? The truth is without community standards and guidelines we can’t blame other community members for trying - even if their choices hurt local heritage in the long run. 

The good news is that properties within a historic district often command higher property values, because the residents and city officials are working together to preserve the unique spirit and authenticity of their community. In their article, the National Trust for Historic Preservation lists 10 Benefits of Establishing a Local Historic District. If you are still not sold, you might benefit from reading Donovan Rypkema's classic book on the subject (see affiliate link).

Community Preservation Guidance & Interpretation

Community preservation officials typically work in either city government or are volunteers on the historic preservation commission (HPC). Along with interpreting the city-adopted historic preservation standards and design guidelines, these folks assist the historic preservation review process and issue certificates of appropriateness.  

Think of the HPC as your community's HP Board of Directors. The HPC meets once a month to review the applications for COAs in the city's designated historic districts. Exterior modifications to any residence must receive a COA in order to file for a building permit. 

The Historic Preservation official(s) are usually integrated into the planning & zoning area of local government. In Oklahoma City since the HPC meets only once per month planning department standards allow for some work items (generally related to maintenance) to receive a COA via administrative approval, if prescribed standards are met. 

In creating a Green Heart Town, the idea of looking back at our vernacular traditions before moving ahead is a definite principle in the process.
— LL

Looking back at a previous discussion on vernacular architecture we came away with a principle that every historic preservationist probably has in their DNA. The idea of looking back at our vernacular traditions before moving ahead is a fundamental paradigm in historic renovation work. Many modern materials have their time and place in historic districts, but a careful interpretation is often necessary to maintain the “spirit” of the original construction. 

Historic Preservation Review Process 

In the last post the owners and I left from our kickoff meetings with the City Historic Preservation and Code Enforcement officials with a good idea of the process required. We had learned that the carriage house was in the process of receiving dilapidated status and that was not good.  

Considering the work ahead we completed the Oklahoma City Historic Preservation Review Submittal Packet, churning out an lengthy Scope of Work and detailed list of Work Items. There is a deadline each month to submit new applications and time was short, so we cheated a little and sent in an incomplete application. 

The HP staff at the Planning Department tirelessly advised us with some key tricks like that one and helped us move forward without delay. They also allowed that we could submit our documentation for administrative review piece-meal if we were not did not have everything else ready to go to that month's HPC meeting. Submitting the documentation for the most urgent work items fit our fast-tracked timeline. After all, we had not even begun configuring the remodeled floor plans or design for the new split-level addition. 

Documenting Work Items

The first of our three certificates of appropriateness (COA) focused on the emergency maintenance the property's roofs required. Here is a listing of work items for the three certificates of appropriateness (COA) we earned, respectfully: 

Emergency Administrative Review Work Items: 

  • Replace roof on house and carriage house; 
  • Repair/replace soffit and fascia; 
  • Install gutters.

Administrative Review Work Items Remaining: 

  • Replace sidewalk, walkway, and driveway; 
  • Install service/trash/mechanical areas; 
  • Install fence; 
  • Remove west set of front steps from conversion to a duplex (non-original); 
  • Repair masonry, siding, and trim; 
  • Replace wood flooring at front porch and balcony, tongue and groove. 

Items for Historic Preservation Commission Review: 

  • Construct rear addition; 
  • Replace front porch railing back to presumed historic condition; 
  • Repair/replace wood windows; 
  • Replace non-historic metal windows; 
  • Remove secondary front door; 
  • Replace second front door with window(s); 
  • Restore original window opening (bricked in).

    To Be Continued… 

    This is the third post in our series following the renovation of the worst house on the block in an up and coming historic neighborhood. We will be following the home through construction. If you missed the beginning here is a look back: 

    Post 1:  In the Aftermath of Neglect: A Creative Historic Home Renovation
    Post 2: Worst on the Block: Historic District & Dilapidated Structure 101
    Post 3: You just finished it!

    Thank you for reading! Next Time we will try and wrap up the COA process and dig into the design work itself.  

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