Frequently Asked Questions for the

Proposed Historic District in Central Roxborough

Historic Designation was developed to identify and protect the City’s historic resources. The Philadelphia Historical Commission (PHC) is responsible for ensuring the preservation of historic properties. The potential Victorian Roxborough Historic District is focused on primarily residential areas straddling Ridge Avenue, to the southwest along Green Lane, Lyceum Avenue, Dexter Street and portions of adjacent blocks, and to the northeast of Ridge Avenue along Leverington Avenue, Hermitage Street, and Lawnton Street. The map below shows a version of the target area of the district, but the boundaries may change with further input from residents and stakeholders.

Map of historic area

It is the best safeguard we have against demolition of our historic housing stock and increased density in our neighborhood. Philadelphia is seeing the greatest housing boom since the 1950s. Roxborough is feeling the same development pressures that many other parts of the city have been experiencing for more than a decade. Even though most of the press concerning demolition and rebuilding of housing stock focuses on denser row-home parts of the city, other neighborhoods of single-family twins and stand-alone houses similar to Roxborough such as Overbrook Farms, Mt. Airy, and Germantown, are also facing significant pressure to allow the demolition of beautiful older houses to make room for the construction of new single-family homes and apartments.

The CRCA is working with a group of interested residents and the Philadelphia Historical Commission (PHC) staff to explore and develop a nomination for this potential residential historic district.

No in both cases. According to Philadelphia’s historic preservation ordinance, properties and districts may be nominated by any person or entity. A nominator does not need permission from property owners or residents to submit. The PHC welcomes input from property owners but does not require it as part of its final approval process. CRCA is very interested in helping residents understand the proposed district and will be soliciting resident input throughout the nomination process.

  • It helps protect the overall architectural character of the neighborhood.
  • It stabilizes, and often increases, property values.
  • It restrains demolition and limits architecturally incompatible development.
  • It demonstrates community pride and support.

When a homeowner within the historic district applies to the City for a building permit, the PHC will be required to review and approve the application for any proposed changes to the exterior of the property. In most cases, PHC staff review is all that is necessary, and the process is completed over the counter on the same day as the application is submitted. More complex or contested cases may take longer or require review by the Commission’s governing body. However, historically over 90% of the applications received by PHC are reviewed approved at the staff level within 5 business days.

No. There is no restoration mandate. Also, alterations that are not historically compatible at the time of historic district designation are grandfathered in and permitted to remain. However, if a property becomes blighted or severely threatened, both L&I and the PHC may intervene with fines and enforcement, according to law.

In general, historic districts contribute to stability or modest increase in property values. Many other factors are also important to property values than historic designation, especially the state of the overall housing market.

No. Designation has no bearing on the assessed value of your home.

No. There is a hardship clause in the ordinance and a process for negotiating with the PHC. CRCA may also assist in advocating for neighbor interests and cases before the PHC.

No. Both state and federal courts have upheld historic designation 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.

In Overbrook Farms, the PHC reports that since 2011 a total of 170 permit applications from Overbrook Farms have been reviewed, of which 163 were approved “over the counter” on the same day by PHC staff, and 7 required more extensive review.

No. Only properties within the boundaries of the proposed historic district are included in the nomination. An inventory of properties that are included in the nomination will be posted on CRCA’s website when finalized.

No, the designation is for the entire proposed historic district, and all properties within the district are included. Properties built after the period of significance (1830-1930) are considered “non-contributing” to the historic district and will be subject to more limited review.

Buildings in historic districts are categorized as “significant,” “contributing,” or “non- contributing.” To secure a demolition permit for a building listed as contributing or significant, an applicant must prove either that there is no feasible reuse for the building, or that demolition is necessary in the public interest. Demolition may also be permitted in instances when the Department of Licenses & Inspections has cited a property as imminently dangerous.

New development within a historic district is reviewed by the Historical Commission to ensure that the proposed design is reasonably consistent with existing structures in the district. This does not require that designs match these older styles, but that they complement the existing historic structures in design, materials, scale and massing. The Historical Commission’s review is separate from the Licenses and Inspections review of the zoning and permit applications and offers a design review that is not included in the L&I process. Public input is also welcome during the PHC review. If a property is undeveloped at the time of district designation, PHC has “Review and Comment” authority only. While designation does not preclude subdivision, the PHC would retain full jurisdiction over new construction on parcels subdivided after designation.

Whenever a landlord undertakes repairs to their property that requires a building permit, their plans will be reviewed by PHC staff during permit review using the same procedures and standards that apply to any other property owner.