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Historic Review Commission  

What is City Historic Designation?

City Historic Designation is a classification assigned to significant buildings, objects, sites, and districts by City Council in order to preserve their historical, architectural, and visual integrity.  Historic designation is an honor recognizing the importance of a particular place to Pittsburgh's heritage.  For this reason, the Historic Review Commission (HRC) has been established to protect the existence and appearance of designated structures and districts.  Through an established regulatory process, the Commission reviews proposed exterior alterations of designated buildings, including new construction, demolition, and additions and/or repairs. 

What falls under the jurisdiction of the HRC?

The HRC must review all exterior changes to any parts of a building that are visible from a public street or way.  Its jurisdiction does not include the interiors of buildings or their use.  Alterations that exist at the time of City Historic Designation may be maintained in perpetuity.

What is required of property owners once their buildings have been designated?

Designation does NOT require a property to  make any changes to his or her building.  However, once a building or district has been designated as historic by City Council, property owners who wish to perform exterior repairs, alterations, new construction, or demolition must submit an application along with their plans to the Historic Review Commission for review and approval.  HRC application forms and instructions are available from the Historic Preservation Planner, Department of City Planning, 200 Ross Street, 4th Floor, Pittsburgh, PA  15219, or by calling 412-255-2243 or 412-393-0162.   Applications may be submitted to this address by mail, by fax (412-255-2838), or in person.  

What is the process for gaining HRC approval?

Once an application has been submitted, the HRC staff conducts an initial review to determine how the designated property will be affected by the work proposed.  Applications for routine maintenance, repairs, or replacements in kind may be approved at once by Commission staff (an "administrative approval").  If the application is for new construction, demolition, an addition, or alterations involving a change of building materials or appearance, the staff will place the application on the agenda of the next upcoming HRC meeting. 

The HRC generally meets on the first Wednesday of every month in the 1st Floor Hearing Room of 200 Ross Street to review applications for work on designated historic structures.  The Commission considers each application at an informal public hearing and usually conducts its vote the same day.  If the application is denied, the Commission will indicate the changes required for future approval.

Once the application has been reviewed and approved, the Commission or its staff issues a Certificate of Appropriateness for the work.  The Certificate of Appropriateness is essentially a permit to change the exterior of a historically-designated structure, and is required to obtain a building permit and zoning approval. 

The Commission's staff is available to meet with property owners to help define a proposal that meets the applicant's goals while best preserving the historic character of the designated building and/or district.

How are decisions made by the HRC?

The HRC and its staff review all proposals on their own merits, but their decisions are based on guidelines for historic preservation established by the Federal Secretary of the Interior.  Before issuing a decision, the HRC considers the appropriateness of a proposed change, its adherence to the building's original design and use of original materials, as well as its compatibility with neighboring buildings.  The Commission takes into account the cost of repairs and replacements, and weighs them against its charge to preserve the historic character of the building and neighborhood.

What happens if the property owner fails to comply with the review process?

If an exterior alteration is made without proper HRC review and approval, the HRC holds a hearing after the fact to determine the appropriateness of the change.  Failure to comply with HRC requirements is a violation of the building code and is enforced by City's Bureau of Building Inspection.  While the HRC makes every attempt to arrive at a mutually acceptable decision with property owners, violations may be resolved in court in extreme cases.

For further information, please contact the Historic Preservation Planner at the Department of City Planning at  (412)-255-2243. 

City Planning
200 Ross Street
Fourth Floor
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
(412) 255-2200