Historic Preservation

Practical Guidance for Construction and Alterations

All plans for new construction, exterior alteration, demolition, and/or subdivision in a historic district require a building permit and must be reviewed by the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) and the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA). Contact the professionals at HPRB about proposed plans and arrange to meet with staff - at no charge to you. Their website is planning.dc.gov/hpp

    • Discuss your plans with neighbors who might be affected by your project. Securing their support can be very helpful in the review process.
    • Apply for the proper permits for both interior and exterior work. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs offers guidance at www.dcra.dc.gov.
    • Consider availing yourself of an architect or designer who is familiar with the Georgetown preservation process. This is certainly not required, but it can ease the way to approval.
    • Study your property carefully and learn as much as possible about the history, style, and period of your building. Look around the neighborhood and acquaint yourself with architectural features that are significant. This is what the appropriate boards - the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC), and the Old Georgetown Board (OGB) - will take into consideration when evaluating proposals.
    • Respect the modest scale of Georgetown. Attempts to dramatically increase building volumes, which could potentially overshadow the original building on the site or neighboring buildings, will not be supported in the review process.
    • Understand the zoning regulations for your property, particularly with regard to regulations on lot coverage (60% is the limit), setbacks, and allowed uses. For further zoning information, contact the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) at www.dcoz.dc.gov
    • Consider the removal of inappropriate elements which may have been added over the years, so as to restore original architectural integrity to your home or building.
    • Good basic maintenance and repair work to original doors is always preferred. Historic doors that have been inappropriately altered should be replaced with doors that duplicate, as closely as possible, the design and detailing of the original.
    • Repair historic windows whenever possible, or replace with like-kind, real wood windows. Changing the location, covering-up or changing the dimensions of a window opening is almost never appropriate since it alters the character of the existing window.
    • Shutters may or may not be appropriate additions to historic buildings. Adding shutters depends on the use and architectural style of a building, as well as documentation of their previous existence on the building.
    • Exterior walls and above-ground foundations are among the most important character-defining elements of historic buildings. Any changes to the existing exterior walls or foundations must be considered by the appropriate boards. Likewise, whenever a change in material or style of the roof or roofline is anticipated, application for permit and review of the project is necessary.
    • Keep exposed natural brick unpainted, and, if a wall is made of porous brick which has always been painted, it should remain painted.
    • Repairing existing secondary buildings, such as garages and sheds, is important to maintaining the character of historic districts. No alterations or demolition is permitted without application and review.
    • Try to place electric and gas meters at the rear of the property or where they are not visible from public view. Rooftop air-conditioning units should be mounted so as not to be seen from a public street. A ground-mounted unit should be located in the rear yard or screened if it can be seen from a public street.
    • Any roof-top structure should be located far enough behind the existing cornice so that it is hidden from view by pedestrians on the street. If this is not possible, the design of the addition or its screening should be compatible with the character of the building.
    • Porches and steps should be maintained in the original state as much as possible. When repairs or maintenance are undertaken, care should be given to use like-kind materials and design.
    • Know that additional curb cuts to create private parking access are usually not allowed; new parking pads or driveways, where a car is visible from public space, are normally denied in the review process.
    • Fences should be constructed with approved traditionally materials; rustic stockade-type fencing, for example, will almost never be approved in the review process.
    • Make an effort to preserve the natural landscape. Trees are an important aspect of quality of life in Georgetown, and there are now city regulations addressing their removal and replacement.
    • Think about what you can do to move a project along (e.g., have dumpsters emptied frequently and have them removed as soon as possible). Remember that work is allowed from 7am to 7pm, 6 days a week...never on Sunday.
    • Remember that even after having hired professional help, the property owner is ultimately responsible for the successful application process, ensuring that contractors work within the guidelines of the work permits, and also responsible for timely completion of the project.
    • If you observe construction or demolition under way which you find questionable or for which no permits are displayed, report the activity to the D.C. Historic Preservation Office (HPO) at 202-442-8837 or 202-442-8800. A staff member will take your information (it is not necessary to give your name) and make a visit to the site.

These are just a few of the many issues that may arise in the review process. These guidelines are for the benefit of all who live and work in Georgetown. By approaching this process with as much knowledge as possible, you can make better decisions, save money and time, and know that the resulting changes to your historic property will be an asset to you and to the community.

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