Skip to main content

Historic Preservation


Policy and Governance

An MPC policy and governance case study


In 1986, the Naperville City Council created the Naperville Local Historic District. Today, approximately 320 properties fall within the Historic District—home to many of Naperville’s historically and architecturally significant buildings—including more than 300 homes and the campus of North Central College. Staff and elected officials saw it as an opportunity to begin thinking strategically about the challenges of how to preserve local architecture and an aging housing stock, and how to work with residents who were interested in modernizing their homes. However, creation of the Historic District was controversial with support from only 16 percent of the property owners within the proposed district boundaries.

When the Historic District was formed, Naperville’s approach to historic preservation started to meet with resistance from residents who were interested in making improvements to their homes, such as putting on additions and making energy-efficiency modifications. Though residents did not want a full-scale removal of the historic designation, they wanted more flexibility regarding the building materials they could use to change the appearance and functionality of their homes.

In 2008, Naperville decided to form a steering committee made up of staff, homeowners in the Historic District, representatives of North Central College and a local historic preservation community organization to begin developing a new roadmap for historic preservation that would meet the needs of all stakeholders. After a seven-month process of community outreach and discussion, a Historic Preservation Commission was created in 2009 to guide future preservation decisions for the City; and an educational resource manual was created in 2010, which the Commission uses to encourage residents to maintain and renovate their homes in a manner consistent with the architectural style and character of existing historic neighborhoods. In 2011, a new ordinance was adopted, which emphasized the preservation of a building’s character and style and loosened restrictions on materials that homeowners can use to make upgrades, provided they follow style and design guidelines.

How it works

Since the establishment of the Historic Preservation Commission in 2009, the City has streamlined the process of making changes to a designated landmark or a property in the Historic District, reducing residents’ costs of rehabilitation. The Commission is comprised of four at-large members, four owners/residents of historic district properties and a representative from the City’s Planning and Zoning Commission, all of whom serve three-year terms. Any party interested in making modifications or improvements to a designated landmark or a property in the Historic District must receive a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) from the Historic Preservation Commission before beginning work. In most cases, a COA will be issued, allowing for the proposed modification. Three COA categories dictate how an application is reviewed:

  1. Exempt: Properties that receive this status are exempt from COA requirements, and alterations to the property do not need to go through an administrative review or Historic Preservation Commission review.
  2. Administrative Review: Property improvements that require an administrative review may meet the requirements that would allow for it to receive expedited staff review and approval through the City’s Fast Track Approval Process, which requires any party to submit an abbreviated version of the Commission’s COA application.
  3. Historic Preservation Commission Review: Property improvements or modifications that do not meet Fast Track Approval Process guidelines are subject to review by the Historic Preservation Commission at a public meeting. Any party that receives this designation is required to submit a Historic Preservation Commission COA application.

The Historic Preservation Commission meets bi-monthly to decide which applications will receive a COA. The commission follows the guidelines set forth in the Historic Preservation Ordinance adopted by the City in 2011, and uses the Historic Building Design and Resource Manual to help residents make informed decisions that uphold the integrity and appearance of their homes. In addition to making COA determinations, the Commission acts as the City’s liaison to the public on all historic preservation related efforts and takes the lead on educating residents and promoting responsible preservation practices.


Historic Preservation Commission, City of Naperville

  • Goal

    To preserve the historical, cultural and architectural heritage of Naperville.

  • Target

    Buildings, structures and sites that fall within the boundaries of Naperville’s Historic District.

  • Financing

    The City of Naperville and National Trust for Historic Preservation

  • Successes

    Naperville’s historic preservation work has helped the City to foster better relationships with residents, which has encouraged residents to make smarter, more sensitive investments in their homes.

  • Lessons learned

    Carving out time and creating opportunities to engage stakeholders was an important step to gain public support for solutions that advance the City’s historic preservation work.