We've put together answers to some frequently asked questions concerning historic designation and home ownership in an historically designated neighborhood.
If you do not find the answer you are looking for below, please feel free to write to the board of the South of South Neighborhood Association at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This FAQ list is adapted from Overbrook Farms and Preservation Alliance.
Why is Historic Designation important to Black Doctors Row/Christian Street Historic District at this time?
It is the best safeguard we have against demolition of our historic housing stock, subdivision, and increased density in our neighborhood. Our neighborhood is feeling the same development pressures that many other parts of the city have been experiencing for more than a decade. The city in general is seeing the greatest housing boom since the Industrial Revolution. With an increase in demolitions and construction, it causes erasure of Black history in our neighborhood. Absent Historic Designation, there is nothing that would prevent to large scale demolition of our historic commercial district.
Are all properties in Black Doctors Row/Christian Street Historic District’s boundaries included in the designation?
No. Only properties that were deemed by the PHC as “contributing” to the Black Doctors Row/Christian Street Historic District era between 1910-1945 from 15th-20th on Christian Street. There is an inventory of properties that are included in the nomination. New development within the district, which falls under the Historic District’s catchment, must also be reviewed by PHC for design coherence.
What are the benefits of historic designation?
Designation (1) helps protect the overall character of the neighborhood; (2) stabilizes property values; (3) Provides a barrier to demolition and institutional incursion into the neighborhood; and (4) demonstrates community pride and support.
What is the Philadelphia Historical Commission’s role?
In addition to identifying, researching and nominating properties and districts that are significant to Philadelphia’s history, PHC reviews work to the exterior of historic properties to help maintain and enhance the character of those properties and districts as a whole. The Historical Commission’s staff provides free advice on appropriate preservation techniques and helps property owners research the histories of their buildings. PHC staff approves approximately 95% of building permit applications that they receive, most within five days, and can conduct many reviews by email. If an owner/applicant proposes work that staff cannot approve, the projects are forwarded to the Historical Commission and its advisory architectural committee for review at monthly public meetings.
Who will be submitting the original nomination to the Philadelphia Historical Commission (PHC)?
The original submission will be prepared and submitted by South of South Neighborhood Association and Preservation Alliance to PHC.
Did the Philadelphia Historic Commission need approval from SOSNA or property owners to submit the nomination? Does it require residents’ support or input for final approval?
No in both cases. Properties and districts may be nominated by any person or entity, though usually are nominated by the PHC itself. A nominator does not need permission from owners or residents to submit. The PHC welcomes input from property owners, but does not require it as part of its final approval process.
Does oversight by the PHC constitute a “taking” from a property rights standpoint?
No. Both state and federal courts have upheld historic oversight as constitutional. Historic oversight is merely an extension of the City’s general oversight of building safety/code, which is why the process always starts with applications to L&I.
What role do neighbors play in maintaining historic character in a district?
Property owners and residents of historic districts help keep their properties and neighborhoods in good shape. They’re the eyes on the street. If any significant changes are proposed to properties within a district, designation provides a public forum for neighbors to weigh in on those changes.
What happens if my house needs repair?
It depends on the nature and complexity of the project. Give PHC staff a call, and they can talk to you about what types of repairs you need to make and what their staff can approve. While PHC reviews work such as window and roof replacement, masonry cleaning and pointing, and site improvements, such as fence and paving, reviews are not required for routine maintenance such as scraping and painting wood trim, cleaning gutters, or replacing clear window glass. PHC does not regulate paint colors of wood and metal trim, such as doors, windows, shutters and cornices. The Historical Commissions jurisdiction extends over the entire exterior envelopes of buildings, but the Commission is most concerned with protecting public views of historic properties.
Will I be required to restore my property?
No. There is no restoration mandate. Also, alterations that are not historically coherent at the time of designation are grandfathered. However, if a property becomes blighted or severely threatened, both L&I and the PHC may intervene with fines and enforcement, according to law.
What are the costs involved?
There are no fees associated with the Historic Commission’s reviews.
Will this affect my property value?
This may be hard to predict, but we know of no other cases across the City where designation has had a negative effect, rather it has resulted in stabilization or increase of property values.
Will my home insurance rates increase?
Nope. Insurance companies do not ask about historic designation. Property location, age, materials, and updates are the key factors in determining insurance premiums (along with an applicant’s credit score). As designation neither changes the physical aspects of a property being insured nor includes the property’s interior, insurance rates should stay the same before and after designation.
Do property taxes increase?
No. According to the Office of Property Assessment, historic designation does not play a role in property assessments. Property size, age, location, condition, [and] use are factors that do impact property assessments, and thus property taxes.
Can the PHC require me to do something I cannot afford?
No. There is a hardship clause in the ordinance and a process for negotiating with the PHC. SOSNA will also assist in advocating for neighbor interests and cases before the PHC.