Owning Property in a Historic District


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NOTE:  Below is an adaptation of the brochure “Owning Property in a Historic District“.


In 1985, the City of Mount Vernon (City) decided they wanted to keep the look and feel of the place they called ‘home’ by adopting a local preservation ordinance. The Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) was also created to administer the ordinance.

The City and HPC are known for their commitment to historic preservation and for the historic districts and sites that are significant at the local, state and national level. Together they work to protect the historic character of buildings, streetscapes,
neighborhoods, and special landmarks from inappropriate alterations and new construction, as well as outright demolition.

Local Preservation Ordinance

The City’s Preservation Ordinance DOES NOT

  • Force owners to make changes, improvements or restorations to their property.
  • Require that historic properties be accessible to the public.
  • Restrict the sale of the property.
  • Require approval of interior changes or alterations. Only changes to the exterior of a structure or site are subject to the design review requirement.
  • Prevent new construction within historic areas.

The City’s local Preservation Ordinance DOES

  • Provide a municipal policy for the designation and preservation of historic properties. 
  • Foster civic pride. 
  • Protect and enhance the City’s attraction to tourists and visitors. 
  • Promote the use of historical properties for the education, welfare and pleasure of the City’s residents. 
  • Stabilize and enhance property values. 
  • Authorize design guidelines within historic districts to ensure that work is not destructive to the area’s historic character. 
  • Protect the integrity of designated historic properties by requiring a design review for any exterior changes to a historic property.

Historic Districts

A historic district is an entire area or group of historic structures deemed significant and established under the City’s local preservation ordinance.

Mount Vernon currently has 3 districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places: the Commercial District, the Ash Park Residential District and the Cornell College District.

To find out if your property is in a historic district, contact the City of Mount Vernon (319) 895-8742

If your property is in a historic district, you are required to have proposed changes that affect the exterior of your property reviewed and approved by the HPC before any work may take place.


Before you begin a project on your historic property, please contact the City’s Zoning Administrator (319-895-8742) to answer your permitting questions and assist you in the process. 

If relevant, the Zoning Administrator can also assist in the scheduling of a preliminary design review session with the HPC. The preliminary design review session can save time and money by making sure the proposed changes are acceptable before applying for a permit.

The more you know about the process before beginning your project, the simpler it will be. Many successful projects have resulted from the collaboration of the HPC and property owners.

Certificate of Appropriateness

A Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) is a permit required for any proposed change to the exterior of a structure, a commercial sign or site of a property located within one of Mount Vernon’s historic districts. It is also required for new construction, relocation and demolition of structures in a historic district.

If the proposed work does not have an impact on the historic integrity of the site or structure, a certificate of No Material Effect (NME) is issued. 

Either a COA or a NME is required before a building permit will be issued for any exterior work.

Design Review

The HPC recognizes the need for contemporary and economical use of historic buildings, and the design review process balances the historic qualities with the demands of today.

  1. First, determine if your project requires HPC design review. The City’s Zoning Administrator (319) 895-8742 can begin the review process and clarify necessary plans for you.
    Projects that require review include proposed demolition, new construction, additions and exterior alterations, including window replacement.
    Commercial signs require a sign permit. Please note that any changes to architectural detailing that may not require a building permit are still required to go through the HPC review process.
  2. If your project requires HPC design review, an application for a COA must be completed. The application should be accompanied by drawings or other exhibits which will aid the HPC in considering the application.
  3. Your project will be scheduled for review at the next HPC meeting. Applicants are strongly encouraged to attend.
  4. Upon review, the HPC may:
    • Approve the application as submitted; or,
    • Approve the application with conditions; or,
    • Hold the application until additional information is submitted and continue at a later meeting; or
    • Deny the application.

Appeals Process

Appeals, if desired, may be made to the City Council within 10 days of receipt of the Commission’s Decision.

For More Information

Visit the City of Mount Vernon’s website:  www.cityofmtvernon-ia.gov

The Design Guidelines for the Mount Vernon Historic Preservation Commission are available on this website.

Visit the website for U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Treatment of Historic Properties

The HPC meets the first Saturday of every month at the Visitor’s Center at 9:15 a.m. for its regular meeting. The Commission also meets mid-month on a Wednesday at 5:30 pm during the months of March through November. There are no mid -month
meetings December-February. All meetings are open to the public.

Thank you! By owning a designated historic building, you are a steward of Mount Vernon’s heritage.