Zoning, planning & development

Get approval for work to a historic property

If your property appears on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, you need approval from the Philadelphia Historical Commission to make changes to it. This process is called a project or design review.

The commission’s goal is to protect public views of historic properties. Most of its reviews concern changes to facades, roofs, and other exterior features. The commission only has jurisdiction over building interiors that appear on the register.

Who

People request a project review from the Historical Commission as part of getting a building permit. Applicants often include:

  • Property owners.
  • Business owners.
  • Developers.
  • Architects.
  • Contractors.
  • Attorneys.

Cost

There’s no charge for a project review by the Historical Commission or its staff.

Requirements

For properties on the register, project reviews are required for:

  • Construction, alteration, and demolition of buildings. This includes additions to buildings.
  • Construction, installation, alteration, repair, removal, replacement, or covering of:
    • Windows, storm windows, dormers, doors, storm doors, security doors, garage doors, and shutters.
    • Exterior light fixtures, window boxes, railings, grilles, grates, and star bolts.
    • Porches, steps, stoops, ramps, decks, balconies, and patios.
    • Fences, walls, gates, sidewalks, driveways, and parking lots.
    • Facades, facade elements, and trim, including cornices and doorways.
    • Roofing and flashing.
    • Storefront features, signage including window film, awnings, and lighting.
    • Mechanical equipment and associated vents, pipes, conduits, and wires. This excludes seasonal window air conditioners that don’t alter the windows.
    • Wiring, conduit, pipes, and satellite dishes on exterior facades and roofs.
  • Masonry cleaning, painting, pointing, repair, replacement, alteration, or removal.
  • Painting, coating, staining, or sealing surfaces except wood and metal trim.
  • Site work such as driveway or parking lot installation or sidewalk replacement.
  • Any alterations to the exterior appearance of the building, site, or permanent site features.

Project reviews are not required for:

  • Standard maintenance such as scraping and painting wood trim, cleaning gutters, and replacing clear window glass.
  • Gardening, landscaping, tree trimming, or temporary holiday decorations, provided that no historic features are altered or removed.
  • Interior alterations, unless the interior is designated on the register.

Review by commission staff

1
To begin, contact the Historical Commission staff.

It’s important to get in touch during the planning stages of your project. That way, the staff can explain the review process and suggest preservation techniques.

You may be asked to provide:

  • Your completed building permit application.
  • Any drawings or documentation required by the Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I).
  • Other documentation, such as photographs, as required by the commission staff.
2
Often, the staff reviews and approves applications without referral to the Historical Commission.

Sometimes, commission staff cannot approve an application. They may then refer you to the Architectural Committee and Historical Commission for approval.

This process will involve the submission of additional documents and a public hearing.

Review by the Architectural Committee and Historical Commission

A small number of projects are referred to the Architectural Committee and Historical Commission. The committee and commission hold public meetings where they review major construction and rehabilitation projects.

If your project is referred to these committees, you’ll have to submit additional materials.


Submission materials

Submission requirements vary depending on the scope of the work. The commission staff will tell you exactly what you need to submit. This will likely include:

  • A completed building permit application. It must state whether you’re requesting final or in-concept approval.

You also need to submit eight sets of the following:

  • A cover letter introducing the project. It should list the property’s owners and equitable owners.
  • Photographs of the property. These photographs must be labeled with the address and date. They must also show:
    • All primary facades and areas within the scope of work.
    • The visibility of the work area from any public rights-of-way.
    • The context of the work, especially for new construction.
  • Copies of any historic documentation justifying the project, if applicable. This could include historic maps, photographs, or insurance surveys.
  • Architectural drawings and other documentation detailing the proposal. These drawings should follow the Commission’s rules and regulations. They should:
    • Reflect both existing and proposed conditions.
    • Be legible, dimensioned, accurately scaled, and annotated.
    • Be printed on 8.5” x 11” or 11” x 17” paper. Rolled or full-size drawings will not be accepted.

You should also submit PDF files of all submission documents on compact disc, thumb drive, or via email.

The commission will accept completed applications in its office until 4 p.m. on the submission deadline. You can view the dates and deadlines for upcoming public meetings.


Review process

Once you’ve submitted your materials, the staff will confirm the meeting dates when your application will be considered.

1
The Architectural Committee will review your application at a public meeting.

You’re encouraged to attend this meeting to support your application. Based on its findings, the committee will make a recommendation to the Historical Commission.

2
The Historical Commission will review your application at a public meeting.

It will also consider the recommendation of the Architectural Committee. Again, you should attend this meeting to answer questions and address concerns about your project.

3
The commission will make a decision.

It may choose to:

  • Approve your application.
  • Approve your application with conditions.
  • Deny your application.

Where and when

You can contact the Historical Commission staff at (215) 686-7660 or at preservation@phila.gov. The Historical Commission office is located at:

1515 Arch St.
13th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19102

Office hours are Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.


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