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Yes, your Philly neighborhood is unique, but is it historic?

4/13/2015 | Real Estate Blog

Philadelphia neighborhood groups achieved amazing results in the recent Knight Cities Challenge. Knight Foundation asked community organizations in 26 cities to submit proposals for community-based projects that would encourage “talent, opportunity and engagement” in the city and its future. Philadelphia snagged seven of the 32 grants, more than any of the 12 cities that made the final cut.

In our April 8 post, we talked about one grant in particular that went to the Central Roxborough Civic Association. The grant will fund the development of a toolkit to guide Roxborough through a Neighborhood Conservation Overlay application with the city.

An NCO designation will help the neighborhood preserve its unique character. But the overlay, as we said, is not the same as the historic district designation.

They do have key elements in common. Both seek to preserve, to protect and to enhance the history and the character of a defined neighborhood or geographic area within the city. An historic district designation and an NCO designation serve as motivation for residents and businesses to rehabilitate and to restore buildings and structures within the district. This attention to the unique assets of a district should, the city code says, improve the economy and the district’s sense of civic pride.

With an NCO, the design elements are determined by the community and extend to new developments as well. Every new structure or streetscape must comply. If there is a historic district within the NCO district, the historic district standards govern. Otherwise, the NCO standards trump all others.

The process is different, as well. With an NCO, a community organization must petition the City Council for the designation. That petition must be endorsed by 30 percent of the affected property owners. If at least 51 percent of the district’s property owners object to the designation in writing, the City Council will not consider the application.

The Council is also in charge of reviewing property owners’ plans for changes to buildings within the district. The ordinances include guidance on the council’s power to make changes to an application or an approved district, including removing the designation entirely.

The City Council does not approve the historic district designation or oversee any part of the designation process. We’ll explain how that works in our next post.


Philadelphia City Code, Zoning and Planning: Historic Preservation, Sec. 14-100 et seq.

Philadelphia City Code, Zoning and Planning: Overlay Zoning Districts, Sec. 14-500 et seq.

Philadelphia City Code, Zoning and Planning: Administration and Procedures, Sec. 14-303, 14-004