Creating a local historic district is a grassroots endeavor initiated by interested neighbors who then apply to the City of Fort Collins for approval.
A historic district must have two things in order to even be considered: integrity and significance. Integrity means that the buildings included within the boundaries of the district are largely intact and still appear as they looked originally. Their materials, footprint, and overall architectural character must remain in large part as they looked over fifty years ago. (For a more in-depth dive into the rigorous criteria that’s used nationally to determine integrity, check out the guidelines posted by the U. S. Department of the Interior.) Significance means that the district is important because of its architecture, its relationship to an important event or pattern of growth within the city’s history, or its association with an important locally historic person.
There are several steps to creating a local historic district. The first step is to hold neighborhood meetings and collect input from residents of the neighborhood. Second is to draw a boundary around a group of properties that qualify as having both integrity and significance and in which the property owners are interested in joining together to form the district. A district can be created in a variety of shapes, but it cannot contain holes. This sometimes leads to property owners being included within the boundary that are not interested in being part of a historic district. The best that can be done is to draw a boundary that includes as many of the people who want to be inside the historic district as possible and restrain the boundary to exclude the largest number of disinterested parties.
The boundary that is chosen must also be defensible. That means that a majority of the properties within the boundary have to have the necessary integrity and significance that is required by City Code. And the border needs to surround a contiguous set of properties without any gaps. Once a boundary has been determined that is both defensible and that has a majority of property owners within it that are in favor of creating a historic district, then an application is made to the City. The application is prepared by the residents of the proposed district with assistance from City staff as needed. Once the application is submitted, the City’s Historic Preservation staff will hold a public meeting by inviting all property owners within the proposed district.
The City’s Preservation Department will review the application to make sure that the properties listed do indeed meet the criteria under the Land Use Code for a historic district. (All of the preservation related codes are located in Chapter 14 of City Code if you are interested, or if you’re having a hard time falling asleep and need a little help.) If the application passes muster, then it is sent on to the Landmark Preservation Commission. The LPC’s role is to review the application once again to make sure the staff didn’t miss anything. If the application still holds up, then the Commission sends a recommendation to City Council to approve the application.
The City Council will consider the application and vote upon it. If they vote in favor of the historic district, then the item will come before them a second time before the historic district is official.
There are currently three locally designated historic districts in Fort Collins. The Old Town Historic District (shown at left in the image above) was designated in 1979 and helped to spur a downtown revitalization. The Sheely Neighborhood Historic District (shown in the upper right — was designated in 2000 and is known for its excellent examples of early post-war development. The South Whitcomb Historic District is located within the 100 block of South Whitcomb, half in and half out of the Loomis Addition. It was landmarked in 2012, making it the most recent historic district to be formed in Fort Collins.