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Historic District Ordinance Regulations & Guidelines

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Intent of the Historical Preservation Ordinance
Eligible Projects
Historic Design Guidelines

Intent of the Historical Preservation Ordinance

The Historic Districts ordinance provides for the establishment of historic districts within the city. They safeguard the heritage of the city by preserving districts in the city which reflect elements of its cultural, social, economic, political and architectural history. In addition they stabilize or improve property values in and adjacent to such districts as well as promoting civic beautification of historic districts. Lastly, they promote the use of local history for the education, pleasure and welfare of the citizens of the city, state and the nation.

The requirements of the Ordinance assist property owners and Historic District Commission (HDC) members in preserving the architectural character of the City. To achieve this goal, the requirements strive to meet the following objectives:

  • Assist property owners in planning for the acquisition and alteration of properties within the Historic District by being more specific than the ordinance
  • Provide applicants with the criteria that HDC follows in rendering its decisions
  • Ensure the consistency of the HDC in its review of applications
  • Augment the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation The Historical Preservation Ordinance is meant to be a set of guidelines and shall not exclude designs deemed appropriate by the HDC.

Eligible Projects

A. Historic Resource

A Historic Resource is a publicly or privately owned building, structure, site, object, feature, or open space that is significant in the history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and/or culture of the city, state, or the United States.

Please see Section 127-25 of the Birmingham Historic Districts Ordinance for a listing of historic landmarks in the City of Birmingham.
In reviewing plans for changes to a designated historic resource, the historic district commission shall give consideration to:

  • Historical and Architectural value and significance of the resource and its relationship to the historical value of the surrounding area
  • The relationship of the exterior architectural or historical features of such resource to the rest of the subject site
  • The general compatibility of the exterior design, arrangement, texture and materials proposed to be used
  • Any other factors, including aesthetic, which it deems to be pertinent, including the preservation standards which the historic district commission shall adopt and maintain for resources in each historic district

B. Changes to a Historic Resource

Plans submitted to the Planning Division affecting the exterior appearance of a resource will be reviewed with special consideration to the historical or architectural value and significance, the relationship of the exterior architectural of historical features to the rest of the surrounding area, the general compatibility for the exterior design, arrangement, texture and materials proposed to be used.

The review of plans for changes affecting the exterior appearance of a resource will be based upon the Secretary of the Interior's "Standards for Rehabilitation" as follows:

  1. Every reasonable effort shall be made to provide a compatible use for a property which requires minimal alteration of the building, structure or site and its environment, or to use a property for its originally intended purpose.
  2. The distinguishing original qualities or character of a building, structure or site and its environment shall not be destroyed. The removal or alteration of any historic material or distinctive architectural features should be avoided when possible.
  3. All buildings, structures and sites shall be recognized as products of their own time. Alterations that have no historical basis and which seek to create an earlier appearance shall be discouraged.
  4. Changes which may have taken place in the course of time are evidence of the history and development of a building, structure or site and its environment. These changes may have acquired significance in their own right, and this significance shall be recognized and respected.
  5. Distinctive stylistic features or examples of skilled craftsmanship which characterize a building, structure or site shall be treated with sensitivity.
  6. Deteriorated architectural features shall be repaired rather than replaced, wherever possible. If replacement is necessary, the new material should match the material being replaced in composition, design, color, texture and other visual qualities. Repair or replacement of missing architectural features should be based on accurate duplications of features, substantiated by historic, physical or pictorial evidence rather than on conjectural designs or the availability of different architectural elements from other buildings or structures.
  7. The surface cleaning of structures shall be undertaken with the gentlest means possible. Sand blasting and other cleaning methods that will damage the historic building materials shall not be undertaken.
  8. Every reasonable effort shall be made to protect and preserve archeological resources affected by or adjacent to any project.
  9. Contemporary design for alterations and additions to existing properties shall not be discouraged when such alterations and additions do not destroy significant historical, architectural or cultural material, and such design is compatible with the size, scale, color, material and character of the property, neighborhood or environment.
  10. Wherever possible, new additions or alterations to structures shall be done in such a manner that if such additions or alterations were to be removed in the future, the essential form and integrity of the structure would be unimpaired.

C. Non-contributing Resource

A non-contributing Resource means one or more publicly or privately owned non-historic buildings, structures, sites, objects, features, or open spaces located within a historic district.

In reviewing plans for changes to a non-contributing resource, the historic district commission shall give consideration to:

  • The site layout, orientation and location of all buildings, their relationship to one another and adjacent buildings and to open space not to adversely affect the use, appearance or value of adjacent properties
  • The location of pedestrian and vehicular areas should not interfere or be hazardous to pedestrian safety
  • The total design must be compatible with the intent of the urban design plan

Length of Approval

Historic review approval is valid for a period of one year from the date it is granted. An extension may be granted of not in excess of one year to the applicant prior to the expiration date.

Planning Department Administrative Approval

Planning department approval of changes within a district is authorized where proposed work will have a minimal impact on the historic significance of the historic and non-contributing resources. Examples of changes that may require only departmental administrative approval includes:

  • Painting
  • Installation and/or removal of doors and/or windows
  • Lighting
  • Landscaping
  • Roofing material
  • Dumpster enclosures
  • Fences
  • Screenwalls
  • Maintenance or repair of buildings or structures


Sec. 127-17. Appeal of a commission decision.

  1. An applicant aggrieved by a decision of the commission concerning a permit application may file an appeal with the State Historic Preservation Review Board. The appeal shall be filed within 60 calendar days after the decision is furnished to the applicant. The appellant may submit all or part of the appellant's evidence and arguments in written form. The state historic preservation review board shall consider an appeal at its first regularly scheduled meeting after receiving the appeal. A permit applicant aggrieved by the decision of the state historic preservation review board may appeal the decision to the county circuit court.
  2. Any citizen or duly organized historic preservation organization in the city, as well as resource property owners, jointly or severally aggrieved by a decision of the commission may appeal the decision to the county circuit court, except that a permit applicant aggrieved by a decision rendered under this chapter may not appeal to the county circuit court without first exhausting the right to appeal to the state historic preservation review board under subsection (a)(Ord. No. 1880, 7-24-06)
Historic Design Guidelines
The following design guidelines are meant to be applied within the boundaries of the City of Birmingham’s designated local historic districts. The design guidelines apply to all properties located within the designated districts including both historic and non-historic resources. These guidelines are also intended to be flexible enough to ‘look forward’ and anticipate new, additional historic districts the City may designate over time.

These guidelines do not cover every potential material or design choice. They are guidelines that attempt to be both specific enough to provide good guidance to existing designated buildings while being general enough to be applicable to properties that may be designated in the future. The final decision on whether to approve an application for a Certificate of Appropriateness in a local historic district rests with the Birmingham Historic District Commission.

Historic District Design Guidelines Executive Summary
Historic District Design Guidelines