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Permits & Design Review

The District of Columbia's historic preservation law is intended to ensure that work done on historic properties is compatible with their historic character. This is accomplished through design review of building plans, permits and subdivision applications.

Permits for Historic Property

If you own historic property, you follow the same building permit process as for non-historic property. The preservation review is an extra step in the normal application procedure. You do not apply separately for preservation permit approval.

Design Review

Prior to applying for a building permit, property owners are encouraged to contact the Historic Preservation Office (HPO) for a preliminary design review consultation. Design review (also called preservation review) ensures that work on historic property meets preservation standards and guidelines.  

Once HPO has completed the design review consultation with you, staff may determine that the project does not require Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) review. In this case you can file a permit application with the DC Department of Buildings (DOB) for staff clearance. More than 95 percent of permit applications for preservation review are handled through this HPO Expedited Review process.

For projects requiring HPRB review, Concept Review allows you to get comments from HPRB at an early stage of project planning. You can make design revisions and secure concept approval before spending the time and money needed to prepare the working drawings for a building permit application. HPRB Concept review also allows Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) and the public to comment during an early design phase, when concerns can be more easily resolved.

Commission of Fine Arts Review

Not all design review is conducted by HPRB or HPO. The US Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) reviews building projects in the Georgetown Historic District, on government property, and in the Shipstead-Luce area around major federal buildings, parks and sites.

Special Review Situations

Additional preservation review requirements apply to properties with historic preservation easements. There are also planning reviews that apply to properties in Chinatown and the old Downtown area along and near Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.

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