• Brownfield Redevelopment
     • Green Building Standards
     • Accessory Dwelling Units

     • Historic Preservation
     • Main Street Program

     • Alt. Energy Ordinances
     • Stormwater Management

     • Smart Growth Code Fixes
     • Form-Based Codes
     • LEED-ND
     • Transit Oriented Dev.
     • Zoning Ordinances
     • Scenario Planning

     • Agricultural Security Areas
     • Clustered Subdivisions
     • Official Map Ordinance

     • Access Management
     • Complete Streets Policy
     • Impact Fees
     • Traffic Calming
     • Walkability

Historic Preservation

Photo of a National Register of Historic Places plaque

Historic resources do more than just preserve the past; they provide a community a link with its heritage, promote a sense of community cohesion and can enhance property values. Several techniques exist for historic preservation of individual resources or whole neighborhoods within municipalities. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission publication "Historic District Designation in Pennsylvania" (2007) examines some of the options and gives practical tips on pursuing different strategies.

Creating an Historic District is one way to ensure that development of new buildings and rehabilitation of old structures supports the aesthetic appeal of the area. Since 1961, Pennsylvania’s Historic District Act (Act 167) has enabled municipalities (including counties) to identify geographically bounded areas with unique or important historical value as Historic Districts. Once a survey of the district is certified by the PHMC, the municipality can adopt a historic district ordinance. The ordinance establishes an Historic Architectural Review Board (HARB); this is an appointed quasi-judicial panel that reviews development, demolition and building modification applications in order to ensure compliance with a set of design standards, also included in the ordinance. Because the design standards are meant to preserve a design aesthetic and to protect those buildings or features of significance, private property owners can be made to feel over-regulated or unnecessarily limited by red-tape during construction or rehabilitation projects.

Another way to protect historic resources is through the Municipalities Planning Code. Municipalities with zoning can adopt an Historic Overlay Zoning District which permits uses compatible with the historic nature of the area and provide off-street parking requirement relief. Also, subdivision and land development ordinances can provide lot layouts and other design standards meant to preserve the aesthetic quality of the urban form. It should be noted that Act 167 provisions tend to regulate design features of buildings while MPC regulations tend to dictate lot layout and use; however, it is recommended that a municipality with zoning that adopts a Historic District also identify how zoning ordinances should change to meet preservation goals.

Historic preservation planning is required as part of county comprehensive plans, as dictated by the MPC. Other municipalities are encouraged to explore whether or not an historic preservation plan is useful in their communities, either as an element of their comprehensive plan, or as a standalone document. An historic preservation plan should include an inventory or survey of current resources, a community vision to prioritize preservation activities and an implementation schedule to direct future policy. Optimally, historic preservation activities, such as the drafting and adoption of an Historic District, would be the result of an historic preservation plan.


  • Preserves historic structures and resources
  • Connects citizens with their community heritage
  • Increases neighborhood property values
  • Spurs additional development


  • Can be perceived as over-regulation or a limit to property rights
  • Poorly described or poorly run HARBs can add an extra layer of red-tape to development
  • Historic preservation goals may be at odds with other municipal goals

Practical Tips

  • Engage land owners in proposed districts early in the process
  • Contact the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to get necessary forms and technical advice
  • Begin with a historic preservation plan to identify priorities



Chapline Street Row Historic District, Wheeling, WV, Mark L. Hall, Ed Freeman, ca. 1976. Source: Library of Congress.   

Chapline Street Row Historic District, Wheeling, WV, Mark L. Hall, Ed Freeman, ca. 1976. Source: Library of Congress.