What is a City Historic District?
|Download the City Historic Districts and Neighborhood Conservation District Brochure|
|Wilmington City Code: Historic Areas, Historic Districts and Historic Landmarks
A City Historic District is an area that has been recognized for its outstanding historical, architectural or archaeological significance. Since 1975, twelve City Historic Districts have been designated to recognize and protect the city’s cultural resources. Within City Historic Districts all exterior changes to buildings, structures, objects or sites, including renovations, alterations, new construction, demolition and changes to the topography, are monitored through the design review process.
How are districts designated?
From time to time, City Council may designate certain areas in the City as City Historic Districts based on requests by residents and other interested parties, substantiated by historic research and the recommendation of the Department of Planning and Development (hereafter referred to as Planning Department). Property owners are invited to attend neighborhood meetings and public hearings regarding such proposals. The Design Review and Preservation Commission and the City Planning Commission make recommendations to City Council, which enacts the legislation officially designating an area as a City Historic District, which is a category of overlay zoning.
What are the benefits of a City Historic District designation?
City Historic District designation recognizes the historical significance of Wilmington’s unique neighborhoods and cultural resources. Such designation helps stabilize property values by protecting the elements that define the area’s character including buildings, structures, objects and sites. Property owners within City Historic Districts may be eligible for a City tax abatement, Federal and State tax credits, and other limited funding programs for preapproved work on their buildings.
What work items are reviewed?
The Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I) refers all building permit applications involving exterior work elements proposed for buildings, structures, objects and sites within a City Historic District to the Planning Department for review. L&I will not issue a building permit until the design review process is complete. Property owners risk financial penalties and the removal of unauthorized work if changes are made without following the design review and permitting processes.
The following categories of work are subject to review:
- Renovation or Restoration
- New Construction
- Changes in Topography
How is the design review process initiated?
For a building permit, L&I refers applicants within a City Historic District to the Planning Department for review. The formal Design Review process is initiated when an applicant submits a fully completed application with all requisite support documentation, which may include, but is not limited to, the following:
- Completed building permit application;
- Completed Design Review application;
- Description of proposed work;
- Plans and specifications showing all facets of proposed work;
- Photographs of the current site conditions.
The Design Review Process
Proposals that involve ordinary repair with in-kind materials, maintenance, or that meet preestablished design criteria can be reviewed administratively by the Planning staff. All other proposals must be referred to the Design Review and Preservation Commission for review. Upon application, certified Planning staff will make a preliminary determination as to whether a work proposal can be reviewed administratively or must be referred to the Design Review and Preservation Commission (DRPC).
Department of Planning and Development
Sec. 48-418 of the City Code allows for the expedited review of certain maintenance type proposals based on review by the Planning Department. These items include:
- Work that is considered in-kind repair or replacement of materials specifying historically appropriate materials;
- Work that does not change the design, material type (if extant material is historically appropriate), or outward appearance of a property;
- Work that meets preestablished design criteria approved by the Design Review and Preservation Commission.
Upon completion of the in-house review, the Planning Department will transmit a Certificate of Appropriateness Memorandum to L&I recommending approval of the proposed work and issuance of a building permit. Applicants are responsible for meeting all other L&I permit requirements prior to issuance of a permit.
Design Review and Preservation Commission
If the Planning Department determines that a work proposal is not considered ordinary repair with in-kind materials or maintenance, does not meet preestablished design criteria, or involves signage, new construction or demolition, the proposal may be referred to the DRPC for review.
The DRPC is a seven-member commission appointed by the Mayor, with members having backgrounds in architecture, planning, urban design, real estate, construction, environmental systems and the fine arts (Sec. 2-66 through 2-69 of the Wilmington City Code).
The DRPC generally meets on the third Wednesday of each month. To be placed on the agenda, a fully completed application and support documentation must be received and accepted by the Planning Department a minimum of three weeks in advance of the meeting.
The Planning Department prepares a brief analysis regarding the proposed project for review by the DRPC. Applicants or their agents must attend the DRPC meeting to answer any questions about their proposal. Following review, the DRPC recommends approval, conditional approval, or denial of the application. They may also choose to defer the application if further information is required.
The DRPC recommendation is forwarded to L&I within five working days, after which building permits may be issued. Applicants are responsible for meeting all other L&I permit requirements prior to issuance of a building permit.
Proposals that are denied by the DRPC can be revised and resubmitted for consideration at the next monthly meeting, or appealed through the L&I Commissioner.