DC property owners and community groups can help to preserve local history through historic designation. Getting a property or area recognized as historic requires a successful application to the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). The Board designates historic landmarks and districts for listing in the DC Inventory of Historic Sites, working with the staff of the Historic Preservation Office (HPO).
When HPRB evaluates an application for listing in the DC Inventory, it also decides whether to recommend the property for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. This advice is forwarded to the District’s State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), who nominates properties for National Register listing.
Who can apply?
Property owners, government agencies, Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, and community organizations that include historic preservation among their purposes are eligible applicants for historic designation. HPRB and HPO can also nominate properties to the Inventory.
Step 1: Consider the Designation Criteria
You should first look at the criteria for historic designation, and consider whether the property or area you are interested in may meet one or more of those criteria. You are encouraged to consult the HPO staff for advice about this initial evaluation. Based on their experience, HPO professionals can usually give you a good idea on the chances of making a successful case for the designation, or can let you know what additional information would be needed for that evaluation. HPO staff can give you tips about doing the necessary research, and if the property does not appear to meet the designation criteria, can suggest other ways to encourage appreciation of its value to the community.
Step 2: Consider Public Involvement
Before proceeding with a designation application, you should also anticipate the level of public interest in the application and the public outreach that may be required. If you are nominating your own property, this is not a primary concern, although you should be aware that the affected Advisory Neighborhood Commission may comment on your application.
If you are a non-profit organization nominating a property in the community, you should determine how and when to notify the property owner of your nomination. While community groups are not required to inform the owner of a proposed nomination in advance, it is always preferable to obtain the owner’s support if that is possible.
If you are seeking to designate a neighborhood historic district, you should plan on significant public outreach and are strongly encouraged to contact HPO for guidance before proceeding with a proposal. Since historic districts affect many people, there will be different opinions, often strongly held, and many questions about the implications of designation that you will need to be prepared to answer.
Step 3: Conduct Research
The most important step in making a case for historic designation is to conduct the research necessary to document the historic significance and characteristics of the property or area. You may be able to do some of this research on your own, but it is advisable to consult a historian, architectural historian, or historian about how to document the property according to professional standards. Public libraries and local or citywide non-profit historic preservation groups are another key resource when undertaking this research.
Step 4: Complete the Application
Prepare the application, using the standard National Register Nomination form issued by the National Park Service. Complete the one-page cover sheet to apply for the DC Inventory listing. In addition to the written description of the property and statement of its significance, the nomination form requires photographs, a map, and a bibliography of research materials consulted.
Step 5: Submit the Application
Submit the application (one signed print copy and an electronic copy) to HPO and pay the filing fee. The fee is $100 for a landmark of up to five buildings, and $200 if there are more than five buildings. For historic districts, the fee ranges from $250 to $1000 depending on the number of buildings. The application becomes a public document and is not returnable.
Within 10 days of receipt, HPO will review your application for completeness. If the application is acceptable, HPO will officially file it, assign a case number, and deposit the filing fee. Once an application to designate a proposed historic landmark is filed, it is protected by the preservation law, and no building permits may be issued until HPRB makes a decision on the application. A proposed historic district is not protected until nominated to the National Register of Historic Places
Step 6: Prepare for the Hearing
After filing a designation application, HPO gives public notice of the nomination and schedules it for a hearing. The date of the hearing depends on the number of pending nominations and other cases on HPRB’s calendar, so the initial scheduling date is subject to change.
Once public notice is given, you should continue public outreach as appropriate. Applicants typically seek support for the nomination from the property owner, affected Advisory Neighborhood Commission, and other organizations. By law, HPRB makes its decision on the basis of the written designation criteria, but support from the property owner and community is always beneficial.
Step 7: Present Your Case at the Hearing
At HPRB’s designation hearing, the applicant is expected to make a brief presentation on the case for designation. The staff will present its report and recommendation, and interested organizations and the public may also comment. Hearings typically last about 30 minutes, or longer if there is significant opposition.
You should consult the HPO staff well in advance to determine how extensive your presentation should be. Applicants usually make a visual presentation, although it is not required. HPRB typically votes on the designation at the conclusion of the hearing, but may keep the record open if additional information is needed.