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Historical Preservation in Philadelphia

Philadelphia contains many buildings that were built over 100 years ago; some even date back to the early part of the 18th century. In 1955, the city created the Philadelphia Historical Commission (PHC) and charged it with preserving historically significant buildings. The PHC has two basic functions: identifying historically significant structures or parts of structures and reviewing projects that involve the modification or demolition of structures that have been or may be designated as historically significant.

The PHC regulates preservation through the city's zoning process. The PHC maintains a register of historically significant structures in the city. At the moment, the register contains over 20,000 properties. If physical changes are proposed for either the interior or exterior of a building on the register, and if the work requires a building permit, the owner or developer must obtain the PHC's approval before a building permit will be issued. If a project requires a rezoning or the issuance of a conditional use permit, the PHC must first review and approve the proposal. The city's Department of Licenses and Inspections will not issue a building permit for structure on either the national or city register of historical places unless and until the PHC has approved the project.

Occasionally, a developer will propose demolishing or altering a building that is deemed by neighbors and others to possess historic value but is not on either the city's Register of Historic Places or on the National Register of Historic Places. In such cases, opponents of the changes may apply to the PHC to place the structure on the city's Register of Historic places. If the PHC finds that the structure has historic significance, it has the power to place the building on the Register, thereby requiring that the proposal for demolition or alteration be approved before the permitting process can continue.

Anyone who may be interested in the fate of a building with historical significance, whether as a developer or development opponent, may wish to consult an attorney who is experienced in land use and zoning law. Such a consultation can provide a helpful review of the case and an enumeration of legal strategies that can be used to obtain a successful outcome.

Source: City of Philadelphia, "Business Services - Does the Historical Commission Affect You?" accessed on Dec. 2, 2016

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