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Historic Review

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Historic Review?
Design review involves a detailed and technical review for aspects of a plan affecting the exterior appearance of a historic resource or non-contributing resource.
When is a Historic Review required?
Before the construction, painting, alteration, repair, moving or demolition affecting the exterior appearance of a historic resource or non-contributing resource is made within an historic district within the City of Birmingham must be reviewed and approved by the Birmingham Historic District Commission. Examples of design changes that may require review by the Historic District Commission include:

  • Repairs and alterations to the exterior building façade
  • The demolition of a historic resource or non-contributing resource
  • Vehicular circulation
  • Screening walls
  • landscaping
  • Addition of signage
  • Addition of awnings
  • Addition of lighting
  • Changes to the location and / or screening of mechanical equipment (both rooftop and ground-mounted)

This list is not meant to be exhaustive. Some of the above changes may be suitable for administrative approval. See administrative approvals for further information.

Plans submitted to the Planning Division affecting the exterior appearance of a historic resource or non-contributing 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.
Why is a Historic Review needed?
Section 127-10 of the Birmingham Historical Preservation Ordinance states that any construction, demolition, moving or alteration affecting the exterior appearance of a historic resource or non-contributing resource made within an historic district must be reviewed by the Historic District Commission.

The historic design review is necessary so the Historic District Commission may determine if the changes are appropriate to the resource and compatible with the surrounding historic district or community.

Design Review Process

  1. Make an appointment with a city planner: A conceptual plan must be presented to a city planner prior to acceptance of an application for Historic Design Review. This meeting is intended for information sharing and general guidance.
  2. Application for Historic Design Review filed: An application is deemed complete upon submission and acceptance of the completed application form and all required documentation. Once an application is deemed complete, a petitioner will be scheduled for the next available slot on the Historic District Commission's roster, which will be at least 2 weeks after the submission of the application package.
  3. Department Review: Submitted plans are sent to appropriate departments for review. Comments are returned to the Planning Division prior to final review by Planning Division personnel
  4. Notices of Public Hearing: Notices are sent by the Planning Division to all property owners within 300' of the subject property at least 15 days prior to the Historic District Commission meeting at which the application will be considered.
  5. Review Report: The Planning Division reviews the submitted pans and prepares a report to the Historic District Commission. A copy of this report is sent to the petitioner 3 days prior to the meeting.
  6. Hearing at the Historic District Commission: Historic District Commission meets to consider the application for Historic Design review. Petitioner appears before the Historic District Commission to answer any questions.
  7. Plan Revision (if necessary): Petitioner revises plans as required by the Historic District Commission and submits revised plans to the Planning Division at least 2 weeks prior to the Historic District Commission meeting at which the revised application will be considered.


An applicant that wishes to appeal a decision of the Birmingham Historic District Commission has the right of appeal to the Board of Zoning Appeals. An appeal must be made to the Board of Zoning Appeals.