Below are types of historic “designations” in Philadelphia:
Philadelphia Historic Register - Inclusion on this register is approved and managed by the Philadelphia Historic Commission (PHC), and increases protection against demolition and improper alterations. Buildings, sites, and objects on this register number more than 10,000. About 900 properties within Queen Village are included on this register and therefore have some protection from unsympathetic alteration and demolition. The PHC contains a file for each property listed that is available for public inspection. Adding more Queen Village properties to the Register of Historic Places will increase protection within the community against demolition of historic properties and as well as require PHC permitting and review for exterior alterations. Historic plaques are available to homes on the Register where the outside has been maintained in keeping with the original historic condition.
Designated Historic Districts started in Philadelphia in the 1980’s and have very specific rules for maintenance and alterations of homes within a neighborhood. There are properties on the north side of Queen Village are included in this “Designated Historic” district. Controversy exists as to the impact of this designation on home values and maintenance costs, but recent studies point to a net increase in value. The goal of this designation is preservation, and it is administered by the PHC. The administration allows for some flexibility through historic interpretation and expertise. As of 2011, there are 7 local and 62 national historic districts in Philadelphia. Old city and Society Hill are included in the 7 local districts. In addition there are 5 or more local historic designation applications in the pipeline today. There are currently 16,000 properties on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places that are protected by the PHC from alteration or demolition. L&I requires PHC approval on these properties before they will issue a building permit. See Chapter 14-2007 of the code. Today PHC manages the administration of historic properties and districts throughout the City with a staff of only 6 employees.
Neighborhood Conservation Districts (NCD) was legislated by City Council in 2003 and the specific Queen Village (QV) ordinance passed in 2008. This ordinance is only a few pages long and defines specific guidelines such as building height, garage limitations, façade material types, among other things. It includes all of QV except north of Bainbridge Street and east of the east side of Front Street. It is not very flexible as it is so specifically defined. One limitation is that the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC) administers it but has no expertise in historic maters in contrast to its overall goal of preservation. Also, the PCPC may not deny demolition of a historic building, so only the 900 or so properties currently listed as historically certified in QV are protected from demolition based on their inclusion on the PHC Register of Historic Places.
A strong community plan accepted by the PCPC will also protect the community, giving PCPC more flexibility in their decision making. Accepted community plans are powerful tools to alleviate undesirable development pressure and fears about larger scale, incompatible new construction. For example, the PCPC cannot deny demolition and subsequent use of property with the ordinance as written, so a builder could demolish a historic building (that is not currently on the Register of Historic Places) and build a parking lot. But as a planning organization, if PCPC was able to review a strong community plan they would be able to consider this additional information within a contextual framework and have a basis to deny the parking lot construction. Chapter 14-900. For example plan see www.philaplanning.org, page down to Passyunk Square Village Square Recommendations.
Southwark National Historic District was identified and placed on the national and local register in 1972 to control the erection and maintenance of outdoor advertising signs. It runs from the corner of Front and Lombard Sts south to Queen then east to Columbus Ave., on south to Washington Ave., west to 5th St. and north back to Lombard St. Chapter 14-12008.
To see the codes, go to www.philaplanning.org and click on “Philadelphia zoning code” in left margin under “publications”. 14-900, 14-2007, 14-2008.
National designations are not for protection, but are more for access to federal grants and incentives. See www.nationalregisterofhistoric places.com/pa/Philadelphia/districts. Local entries include:
- Headhouse Square
- South Front Street/Southwark (700-712 Front St, west side, from Bainbridge to Kenilworth)
- Southwark (bounded by Delaware to Washington Aves., 5th, Lombard, Front and Catherine Sts.)
- Northern Liberties
- Old City
- Society Hill
- Washington Square East