Historic Preservation Considerations in the Municipal Approval Process

Apr. 9th, 2024 12:00 pm

When navigating the intersection of municipal development and historic preservation, understanding the role of a Historic Preservation Board (HPB) becomes essential. These boards play a critical role in maintaining the architectural integrity and historical significance of properties within municipalities. Their involvement is required in a variety of circumstances, from individual property modifications to broader community development initiatives.

Importance of a Historic Preservation Board

HPBs extend their influence beyond merely vetting alterations to individual historic properties. Their oversight encompasses the entirety of historic districts, ensuring that new developments, renovations, and even demolition projects align with established historic preservation standards. This holistic approach is vital in maintaining the character and integrity of neighborhoods steeped in history.

When a Historic Preservation Board May Step In

For homeowners wishing to build or alter structures on their property, approval from the municipality's HPB is required if the property falls within a historic district and the construction is visible from the public right of way. This includes any exterior modifications visible from the street, such as adding windows, altering facades, or constructing additions. The municipality’s HPB would evaluate these changes for their impact on the historic character of the property and the surrounding area.

Large scale development projects have similar requirements. In these situations, the HPB’s role is to ensure that new developments respect the historical context and fabric of the area, which may influence zoning or planning decisions to protect historic assets.

Obtaining Approval from an HPB

When property owners and developers are seeking approval from a municipality’s planning and zoning board(s), historic preservation concerns may arise. A planning and zoning board(s) may either refer the application to the municipality’s HPB or may advise the applicant to approach the HPB itself. Applicants are often required to demonstrate, through presenting detailed plans, how their proposed changes contribute to the preservation of the property's historic value. An applicant will also need to demonstrate how the construction or alterations do not take away from the historic character of the district. If satisfied, a HPB may issue a Certificate of Appropriateness (or a similar instrument) which confirms that the construction or alterations do not offend the historic interests of the district.

Relation to Zoning and Environmental Issues

The involvement of HPBs often intersects with zoning laws and environmental regulations. For instance, zoning adjustments may be required to accommodate the preservation of historic structures, or environmental assessments may need to account for the impact on historically significant landscapes. The preservation process can thus influence and be influenced by broader municipal planning and development policies.

Challenges and Opportunities

While the work of HPBs is essential in preserving a municipality’s historic heritage, it is not without its challenges. Balancing the needs for preservation with demands for development and modernization requires nuanced decision-making. Furthermore, the financial implications of preservation, including funding for maintenance and restoration, can be significant. However, these challenges also present opportunities for innovation, such as adaptive reuse projects that repurpose historic buildings for new uses, breathing new life into old structures while retaining their historical significance.


HPBs play a pivotal role in balancing development with the conservation of historical heritage. Their approval is crucial for property owners looking to alter historic landmarks and for developers planning projects that impacts historic sites. This process ensures that growth and change within a historic district respects and preserves its historical and cultural significance, often intertwining with zoning and environmental considerations to promote sustainable development that honors the past.

If you have questions about historic preservation or need assistance navigating municipal approval processes as a property owner or developer, contact the attorneys at The Zoghlin Group for help. For inquiries related to, Historic Preservation, Land Use and Zoning, and Municipal Law, please contact Mindy Zoghlin, Esq., Jacob Zoghlin, Esq., or Ryan Ockenden, Esq.


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