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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Montgomery County Master Plan for Historic Preservation?
The Master Plan for Historic Preservation is the County’s preservation planning document.  It includes the list of all officially designated historic sites and districts and a system for protecting them, namely the Historic Preservation Ordinance. 

What is the Preservation Ordinance?
Chapter 24A of the Montgomery County Code – Preservation of Historic Resources - was adopted in 1979 as part of the Master Plan for Historic Preservation and revised in 1989.  It is essentially the body of law which governs historic preservation in the County.  The Ordinance includes all the necessary regulations, definitions, and powers and duties of those charged with implementing the Ordinance.

What does designation on the Master Plan mean?
Designation of a single property or entire district as a Master Plan historic site or historic district signifies that the particular site or district has been researched carefully by preservation specialists and, through review by the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) and by vote of the Montgomery County Council, determined  to be of special historic significance and, therefore, to be protected under the Montgomery County Ordinance, Chapter 24A, Preservation of Historic Resources.
Designation as a Master Plan  historic district:

  • provides for protecting buildings and neighborhoods from being demolished;
  • helps to insure the visual beauty of a neighborhood;
  • provides owners with information on care, restoration, and preservation;
  • qualifies owners for special tax benefit programs.

Does designation mean that changes cannot be made to a property within a historic district?
No. Historic designation does not mean a property can never be changed.  It is a way to manage change.  Owners who wish to make exterior changes may file a Historic Area Work Permit (HAWP) application with the Department of Permitting Services (DPS) in Rockville.  It is subsequently reviewed for approval by the HPC staff and acted upon by the Commission.    New construction in a historic district is subject to the same review process.   No permit is  required for interior changes or ordinary exterior maintenance.  The HPC does not review paint colors. 

Are there financial benefits to owning property in a designated historic district?
Yes.  County, state, and federal government tax benefits help to offset the costs you might incur in preserving a historic property in a designated historic district:

  • County property tax credit of 25% of the cost of approved maintenance, exterior restoration, or preservation.  Work on approved projects must exceed $1000 in a given year and be performed by a licensed contractor.
  • Maryland state income tax deduction of 20% for approved work amounting to a minimum of $5000 in expenditures over a two-year period.   The deduction applies to exterior or interior       structural or mechanical work on historic structures in locally designated historic districts or   those recognized by the Maryland Historical Trust or in the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Federal tax credit of 20% of the cost of approved rehabilitation of income-producing residential, commercial, and industrial properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

What is the Historic Area Work Permit (HAWP) and how does the procedure work?
The HAWP application is the first step in securing approval to move, demolish, or alter the exterior of a house, building or any other structure, or environmental setting.  After the owner files a HAWP application with the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services, HPC staff reviews and presents it to the Commission at a public hearing within three weeks, and no more than 45 days, after filing.  In reviewing the HAWP application, the HPC follows the requirements of the Historic Preservation Ordinance, any district-specific guidelines (e.g. Chevy Chase Historic Preservation Policy Guidelines), and the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.  (See p. 4, How to Obtain a Historic Area Work Permit.)

Generally speaking, a HAWP is required in order to:

  • construct additions and/or any type of new structure
  • remove or enclose porches
  • install artificial (vinyl, aluminum, etc.) siding, shingles, or masonry facing when such materials are different from the existing materials
  • remove a substantial amount of original historic fabric to replace it with “new” matching material.
  • replace or change original windows or sash;
  • add, remove, or change architectural features, including the size, shape and placement of window openings or shutters; 
  • construct, remove, or increase the height of an existing fence or wall,
  • remove live trees greater than 6" in diameter;
  • paint masonry surfaces that have never been painted or remove paint from masonry;
  • demolish any structure, including outbuildings (sheds, garages, etc.)
  • install driveways, patios or other impermeable surfaces
  • change existing building materials

When do you not need a HAWP?
You do not need a HAWP for any interior work or for normal maintenance to the exterior of the building and site.  Normal maintenance is defined as work that does not alter the exterior features of a historic resource and uses the same materials in replacement.   Examples include painting wood surfaces; repairing or replacing roofs with the same material, gutters, trim, lights; and repaving existing driveways with matching materials.
NOTE:  Applicants are encouraged to discuss their proposals, in advance, with HPC staff.

What is the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC)?
The HPC is appointed by the County Executive and confirmed by the County Council.  It consists of nine members who represent at least the four fields of history, architecture, preservation and urban design.  Its duties, generally, are to:

  • recommend certain historic sites and districts for inclusion on the Master Plan;   
  • review and act upon HAWP applications according to the Chapter 24A regulations;
  • appoint members of Local Advisory Panels on Historic Preservation;
  • recommend programs and legislation to the County Planning Board and Council;
  • serve as a clearinghouse on information on historic preservation;
  • undertake certain activities which advance preservation goals in the County;
  • advise the Planning Board on those land subdivisions which contain historic resources.

At the local level, the HPC appoints a Local Advisory Panel (LAP) made up of five to seven persons living in the historic district who advise and assist the HPC in their review of HAWP applications. For Chevy Chase Village, the HPC appoints persons recommended by the Village Board of Managers.

Which criteria are used in evaluating a historic resource?
The criteria used are found in Chapter 24A of the County Code

  1. Historical and cultural significance. The historic resource:
    1. Has character, interest or value as part of the development, heritage or cultural characteristics of the county, state or nation;
    2. Is the site of a significant historic event;
    3. Is identified with a person or a group of persons who influenced society; or
    4. Exemplifies the cultural economic, social, political or historic heritage of the county and its communities.
  2. Architectural and design significance. The historic resource:
    1. Embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction;
    2. Represents the work of a master;
    3. Possesses high artistic values;
    4. Represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or
    5. Represents an established and familiar visual feature of the neighborhood, community or county due to its singular physical characteristic or landscape. (Ord. No. 9-4,§ 1; Ord. No. 11-59.)

For more information, call 301-563-3400, fax 301-563-3412, or write to: Historic Preservation Commission, M-NCPPC, 8787 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, MD   20910-3760.

NOTE:  If, because of the attempt to simplify the language in this publication, there are any inconsistencies between it and the law (Montgomery County Historic Preservation Ordinance Chapter 24A) as written, the law prevails.