Historic Site Designation

Significance of a historic preservation site designation

Local historic district designation is a form of protection for historic properties. Through designation, the city has determined that properties within the district have special historical significance and that your building is an important part of Northfield’s heritage worthy of protection from inappropriate changes or destruction.

Differences between local and national designations

National register listing, while largely honorary, protects properties from any federal- or state-sponsored impact. Listing on the National Register does not place restrictions on the property and does not require review by the Heritage Preservation Commission.

A local historic district—approved by local ordinance—places the task of design review in the hands of the city appointed Heritage Preservation Commission.

Criteria for historic preservation site designation

The Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) considers the following criteria in determining whether a site is worthy of historic designation in Northfield:

  1. That the quality of significance in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture is present in districts, sites, buildings, structures, landscaping, and objects that possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association
  2. That are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history
  3. That are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past
  4. That embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction
  5. That have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history
  6. That have a unique location or singular physical characteristics representing established and familiar aspects of a view, vista, site, area or district in the city.

Commenting before decisions on historic designations

Before the Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) designates a property, all property owners within 350 feet are notified and have the opportunity to express their views at a public hearing before the City Council. The HPC and Planning Commission make recommendations on the designation of a property and the City Council makes the final decision.

Altering, demolishing, or constructing buildings within a historic district site

Every building within the historic district is protected under the Northfield’s heritage preservation ordinance.

Historic designation does not “freeze” a building or an area. The goal of designation is not to prevent change, but guide it.

Alterations, demolition, and new construction continue to take place, but the Heritage Preservation Commission must first review the proposed changes for compatibility with the historic character of the district.

If you want to make exterior alterations to your building (with the exception of minor alterations), you must obtain Heritage Preservation Commission approval before beginning the work. This approval is called a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA). Once the proposal is reviewed by the Heritage Preservation Commission and found to meet the criteria, you will be issued approval to proceed with the work.

Projects that don’t require the Heritage Preservation Commission’s approval

Generally, all interior changes do not require the Heritage Preservation Commission's (HPC) approval.

In addition, the Heritage Preservation staff may approve minor exterior alterations that are executed with the same type of materials or methods. Heritage Preservation staff can tell you whether HPC approval is needed for the type of work you are considering.

No obligation to restore a building to its original appearance

The Heritage Preservation Commission reviews proposed alterations. It cannot require you to restore your building to its original appearance.

For example, if at the time of designation your building had a modern entrance, the HPC cannot make you restore the original entrance. However, if you propose additional major changes to the entrance, the HPC would review these for consistency with the historic character of the building.

Financial incentives and assistance available

The National Park Service administers the federal historic preservation tax credit. Additional financial incentives and assistance may be available.

Federal historic preservation tax credit

Financing options

Historic research resources

Applying for historic preservation site designation

View the historic review process

View application and guidelines (PDF)


Find historic information about buildings, learn more about preservation and find helpful organizations.

Historic research resources

For historic images of buildings, search the Northfield-Rice County Digital History Collection