About Historic Preservation

The citizens who make up the Historic Preservation Commission are pleased to assist you in improving your property in a historically appropriate manner. The ordinance under which we operate was enacted to:

  • Safeguard the heritage of Grand Rapids
  • Stabilize and improve property values in historic districts
  • Foster civic beauty, and
  • Strengthen the local economy.

We believe that appropriate maintenance of historic properties contributes to all of these goals.


Are there alterations which will not be approved?

Alterations which are typically denied are:

  • installing vinyl or aluminum siding over wood or other historic materials
  • installing vinyl or aluminum windows
  • painting a masonry surface which is not currently painted
  • sandblasting pressure grit washing, or high pressure water washing
  • removing or changing distinctive architectural details
  • use of pressure treated wood as a finish material

“Maintenance” and “Changes”

Ordinary maintenance and minor repairs involving identical materials and design do not require an application Painting previously painted surfaces is a common example of what does not need approval. However, repairs that will use different materials, that would change the existing character of the building, or which are extensive enough to require a building permit, must be approved before work begins. If there is any doubt, owners should consult with the Historic Preservation staff by phone or in person:

Neighborhood Services Office
1120 Monroe NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
616-456-3451; Fax 456-4546 or 456-3453

Even when approval is needed it often can be given by the staff. Since there is no fee, nothing is lost by asking advice, and much difficulty can be avoided in case approval is required.

What standards does the Commission use to evaluate the applications?

The Commission is required to apply the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings. The Commission has also adopted local guidelines which have been approved by the State.

In addition, the Secretary of the Interior has published Guidelines based on the standards which may be helpful to an applicant considering how to make appropriate changes to an historic structure.

The local policies and guidelines interpret the federal Standards on issues which arise frequently in Grand Rapids. The next section lists the current local guidelines.

What local guidelines are there?

Currently, there are nine policies and guidelines which may helpful to you in determining how the Commission will view posed changes:

Both the federal and local standards and guidelines are available inspection at the Neighborhood Services Office at 1120 Monroe NW. In interpreting these standards and guidelines, previous decisions the Commission may be influential But changes which you may see in the neighborhood may have been made before the district was designated; may have been made illegally; or may have been based on special considerations which do not apply to your property. The local guidelines are generally better indicators of Commission action than previous decisions – particularly if those decisions were made prior to the adoption of the relevant guidelines.

What work needs to be approved?

Any work affecting the exterior appearance of structures, sites or open spaces within the designated historic district and to individual Historic landmarks needs to be approved prior to the work commencing.

“Work” includes repair, new construction, alteration, addition, moving, excavation or demolition. Interior changes are only reviewed if they will affect the exterior appearance.

Structures include houses, commercial or industrial buildings, garages, carriage houses, gazebos, fences, walls, driveways and other paved areas.

What is the Historic Preservation Commission?

The Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) is established by City Ordinance under a Michigan enabling Statute. That statute lays out structures, procedures, standards and appeal processes to be followed by commissions like ours. The basic standards for review of applications are ones established by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. The HPC has existed since 1973, when Heritage Hill was designated as the first Historic District. Since then the Ledyard Block, Heartside and Cherry Hill districts have been added, along with a number of single structures and places all around the city (Maps and listings are available from historic preservation staff at 1120 Monroe NW, and the City Planning Department, Room 920 of the City Hall.)

The HPC is composed of seven people appointed by the City Commission, with various backgrounds and expertise, sharing an interest in historic preservation. Most HPC members reside or work in one of the historic districts.

What is the process for Approvals?

  1. Pick up an application

    Pick up an application at the Neighborhood Services Office at 1120 Monroe NW; at the Heritage Hill Association, 126 College SE; or at the Cherry Hill Market, 721 Cherry SE,

  2. Consult with the Historic Preservation staff

    If there is a question, consult with the Historic Preservation staff person. Ask whether a building permit or zoning approval may also be necessary for the work you wish to do. Ask for any HPC guidelines which apply to the kind of work you are planning. Other technical assistance materials are available on many topics.>

  3. Fill out the application

    Fill out the Application. Address the applicable guidelines, if any. Include a complete description, drawings, photos, materials lists and building materials brochures or samples which will help the Commission to understand what you plan to do.

  4. Submit the application by mail or in person

    Submit the application by mail or in person to:

    Neighborhood Services Office 1120 Monroe NW. There is no fee (although there are fees for any building permits or zoning appeals which may be needed). If staff can act on your application, you will get a response promptly.

    If the application will go for review by the Commission, you will be notified of the date of the next meeting (first and third Wednesday of each month, at 5:00 p.m.). Applications normally must be submitted at least 12 days before the meeting at which they will be considered.

  5. Commission members will visit your property

    Commission members will visit your property prior to the meeting for which the application has been placed on the agenda. This helps them understand what you are proposing.

  6. Try to be present at the Commission meeting

    Try to be present at the Commission meeting. It is very helpful for the applicant or a knowledgeable representative (such as a contractor) to be present.

    The Commission wants to avoid delays whenever possible, When a representative is present, questions can be answered which will allow a decision to be made immediately If there is a problem, it is often possible for the Commission and the applicant to agree on a change in the proposal which will lead to an approval. Otherwise, applications often have to be tabled with a request for more information.

  7. A Certificate of Appropriateness will be issued

    A Certificate of Appropriateness will be issued by staff when an application has been approved. It is mailed to the applicant. If it is denied, the Commission will be happy to advise the applicant on changes which would be acceptable.

  8. 8. It is possible to appeal a denial

    It is possible to appeal a denial to the State Historic Preservation Review Board. There are few appeals, because most concerns can be resolved between the Commission and the applicant with some modifications of the proposed changes. Consult with staff on the procedures for reconsideration by the Commission or an appeal to the State.

Are the economics of repairing my property considered?

The economic burden of necessary renovations is considered in two ways:

  • there is no requirement to restore original features which have been lost prior to the historic designation of the property, although many owners do choose to do that;
  • if repair or maintenance of an existing feature will impose an extreme economic burden, an exception to the standards can be considered; the Commission will look at:
  • the cost of the rehabilitation work compared to the value the property will have once repaired;
  • the record of the applicant’s effort in ongoing maintenance;
  • alternative means of preservation or restoration available to the applicant.

Are there any tax benefits available for historic renovations?

If you plan major improvements to your own home in a historic district, the State of Michigan now offers a tax credit to help you do it right. More Information

For substantial commercial, industrial and rental housing rehabilitation projects, which comply with the Secretary of Interior’s standards, federal tax credits of up to 20 per cent are available. The application process is fairly complicated, but the tax credits can make the difference in a successful project, The process involves review at the state level. More information can be obtained from:

Brian D. Conway – State Historic Preservation Officer
Phone: (517) 373-1630
Email: conwaybd@michigan.gov

Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries,
Michigan Historical Center,
Michigan State Historic Preservation Office
702 West Kalamazoo Street,
P.O. Box 30740,
Lansing, MI 48909-8240
Phone: (517) 373-1630
Fax: (517) 335-0348
TDD 1-800-827-7007
E-mail: preservation@michigan.gov

If You Have Any Questions, Contact:

Historic Preservation Staff
City of Grand Rapids Neighborhood Services Office
1120 Monroe NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
(616) 456-3451; Fax 456-4546

Copies of the Ordinance and related standards and guidelines can be obtained from the Historic Preservation staff. This Information Provided By The City Of Grand Rapids.

Historic Preservation Commission Guidelines

Certificate of Appropriateness Form

New Contruction – CoA – Fillable Form

Demolition Application – Fillable Form