As we’ve been going around talking to neighbors, the question of what new restrictions would be put in place with a historic district — compared to what the current restrictions already are — has come up a few times. So what follows is first a listing of what home owners already face when proposing alterations to their property followed by what differences a historic district would make.

Current Restrictions

Ordinance 033, 2013

The most recent code changes that have made a significant impact upon Old Town Neighborhood property owners is an ordinance that was passed by City Council in 2013 that adjusted floor area ratio (FAR) limits, made solar access requirements, and added some articulation requirements. It also made a change regarding how the height of a house is measured. (See explanations on these things below.) The ordinance was a result of the Eastside and Westside Neighborhoods Character Study that was conducted in 2010 with resident input. (Ordinance No. 033, 2013)

FAR Requirements

Before the changes made in 2013, the maximum allowed square footage for new construction in the Old Town Neighborhoods was 40% of the square footage of the entire lot.  The square footage (or “floor area”) of the house that was counted did not include the basement nor any portions of a finished attic that was shorter than 7 feet in height. For new houses with vaulted ceilings, only the square footage of the floor was taken into account (not the square footage of what was essentially a second floor), which allowed for houses that looked significantly larger on the outside than neighboring homes.

A 795 square foot house is dwarfed by its new neighbor which boasts 5,438 square feet of livable space.

The house at 423 Wood St. was built in 1908 in a neighborhood known at the time for providing affordable housing — especially for workers in the nearby beet factory. The house at 425 was built in 2011 and boasts 5,438 square feet of finished space (plus 207 square feet unfinished). That’s 4,850 square feet more than the neighboring house. If you’d like to learn more about 425, you can check out this listing. The people who built the house seven years ago are now selling.

Ordinance 033 strove to take a more nuanced approach to the ratio of built house to lot size. Rather than just using a 40% rule, no matter the lot size, it broke the square footage allowance into three categories. It also made an additional allowance for a detached garage, which is the most common type of garage in the neighborhood. The goal of this approach was to allow reasonable sized houses on small lots, but reign in the ballooning of houses on larger lots.

 

Lot Size Allowable Square Footage of House
L < 5000 sq. ft. H ≤ 40% of the lot size, in other words H ≤2000 sq. ft.
5000 sq. ft. < L < 10,000 sq. ft. H ≤ 20% + 1000 sq. ft.
6000 sq. ft. < L< 10,000 sq. ft. Same as above plus an additional 250 sq. ft. for a detached accessory structure such as a garage
L > 10,000 sq. ft. H < 30% plus 250 sq. ft. for a detached accessory structure such as a garage

Note that the maximum size for a garage is 600 sq. ft., but only 250 of that is part of the additionally allowed square footage in the above formulation. Any addition square footage on the garage would be included in the FAR for the property.

In addition to these changes, there was also a change in how FAR was measured. Traditionally the square footage of the basement is not counted. It’s essentially “free” space (in terms of these formulas). But residents were complaining that neighbors were raising the level of the first floor of their house in order to get a garden-level basement, but despite the added size that space wasn’t being counted. So it was determined that if the first floor is more than 3 feet off the ground (measured at the point of the sidewalk) then the basement square footage would count in the ratios above. As long as the first floor was more in keeping with the neighboring houses at 3 feet high or lower, then basement space wasn’t included in the formulas.

There are no financial incentives for complying with this regulation.

Solar Access

Solar access, put simply, means that a new house shouldn’t block out all of the sun on the neighbors to the north during winter. Residents were complaining that new construction next door left them in shade throughout the winter, raising heating bills and contributing to Seasonal Affective Disorder. This was particularly a problem when a two story house was being built next to a one story.

So Ordinance 003, 2013 added requirements that new construction on a north-south street must continue to allow some sun on the neighboring house to the north during the winter months. This can be achieved by putting the larger sections of the 2nd story to the south side of the house or by using a roof angle that enable more sun to reach the neighboring house.

There are no financial incentives for complying with this regulation.

Articulation

Articulation is a fancy way of saying that a house shouldn’t just be a flat box. There should be a porch, or perhaps a small section that juts out and adds a bit more character to the look of the house. There are a menu of options that home owners can select from. The purpose of this rule is to help new construction fit in a little better with the character of the Old Town Neighborhoods.

There are no financial incentives for complying with this regulation.

Back Half of the Lot Requirement – FAR

In addition to the FAR requirements above, there is an additional requirement regarding how much of the house is in the front part of the lot and how much is in the back. The goal of this requirement is to keep houses from spreading over the entire lot. Another way to say that is that it’s to keep back yards and greenery in the neighborhood rather than building over the whole lot. This rule predates Ordinance 033, 2013.

“The… max allowable floor area for single family houses and associated accessory buildings is 45% of the first 3,000 s.f. of lot area, and 25% of the remaining lot area. Same for both zones.” — City website

There are no financial incentives for complying with this regulation.

Demolition/Alteration Review

Any building within the city of Fort Collins that’s over 50 years old and that’s being proposed for a major alteration or for demolition has to go through demolition/alteration review. The purpose of this review is simply to do a cursory check and see if the building would qualify for historic designation and therefore for substantial tax credits, zero interest loans, and other incentives.

If a building is found to be eligible for demolition, a sign is posted in front of the building that says “Historic Review Underway” (even though the review has already occurred). The sign alerts neighbors that change is probably coming. After a period of time, the sign is removed and the property owner needs to submit a survey form on the house. (A survey details characteristics of the house as well as listing past owners.) The survey is maintained by the City primarily so that a record is kept regarding the historic resource. The property is then sent to a final demolition/alteration review with the Landmark Preservation Commission during which time it’s generally put on the consent agenda and quickly approved.

Anywhere from 500 – 600 properties are reviewed a year and only a very small portion (5 or 6) reach the last stage of going to the LPC.

Once this process is completed, the home owner can get a permit to demolish or alter their building.

If the building was found not to be eligible for historic designation, then building owners can get permits sooner to complete their work.

There are no financial incentives for complying with this regulation.

Zoning

There are some other regulations that depend to some extent on what zone you live in. The Old Town Neighborhoods consist mostly of either NCM or NCL zoned areas although there are also pockets of LMN, NCB and even CC. What is and isn’t allowed in each of these zones fills several pages of code. But a few examples of what is and isn’t allowed is listed below.

NCM – Neighborhood Conservation Medium Density

Single-family homes, duplexes, and four-plexes are allowed as well as churches, scho

NCL – Neighborhood Conservation Low Desnity

LMN – Low Density Mixed-Use Neighborhood

NCB – Neighborhood Conservation Buffer

Single-family homes, duplexes, and four-plexes. Also “Extra occupancy rental houses with five (5) or fewer tenants” and mixed-use dwellings.

Short term primary rentals are also allowed in the NCB. These are vacation rentals such as AirBnB and VRBO.

CC – Community Commercial

 

There are no financial incentives for complying with this regulation.

 

Additional Requirements If There’s a Historic District

All of the Above

Being in a historic district does not remove any of the current requirements. It does however give residents a greater say in how their neighborhood looks. For example, in the Sheely Drive Neighborhood Historic District, they pointed out in their nomination form that the lack of sidewalks was a significant feature in the look of their neighborhood. So as the City goes around adding sidewalks where they are currently missing, none will be added in the Sheely District specifically because the residents have spoken out that they like their neighborhood the way it is.

Historic Houses Can’t Be Torn Down

If a house is in a historic district AND it’s considered one of the historic houses within the district (called a “contributing property”) then it can only be torn down if the building is “imminently dangerous.” However, because it’s in a historic district, and because it’s contributing, it is eligible for all the income tax credits, zero interest loans and other incentives available to historic homes. It is also allowed to have a compatible rear addition added.

Non-contributing houses (ones that are less than 50 years old and ones that are more than 50 years old but no longer look like they originally did and which have no significance based on former owners) can be torn down, but…

New Construction Must Be in Character with the Neighborhood

Additions to older homes and new houses that are built within the district must all comply with the Old Town Neighborhood Design Guidelines (or whatever standards the residents that form the district choose).

The house at 221 N. Whitcomb was built in 2007.

So, for example, a house such as 221 N. Whitcomb, which was built in 2007, could be built as new infill within a local historic district.

Another example that already exists within the Loomis Addition is the house at 815 W. Oak St, which was designed with the Old Town Design Guidelines in mind.

726 and 732 Maple Street were built in 2010.

The series of infill houses on Grant and Maple streets in 2010 are allowed under our present building code, but would not be allowed in a historic district because they were constructed with boxy elements that are not in keeping with the character of the Loomis Addition.

New construction is not eligible for the substantial tax credits, nor the zero interest loans, that historic properties would be eligible for.

A key advantage of forming a historyic district is that people on a fixed income who have been struggling to keep up with maintenance and general upkeep on their property would have access to the tax credits and zero interest loans that could help them to improve their property. It is believed that this is one reason why properties within a historic districts often grow in value at a faster rate than houses in surrounding neighborhoods.