Historic Designation FAQ Guide
The City of Columbia’s first local historic districts were established in 1964, and the city’s Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Ordinance is the framework that supports Columbia’s local historic districts and individual landmarks, and it specifically outlines provisions related to historic designation, design review, and demolition review. It is important to note that these functions are managed by the City of Columbia Planning Department, its Design/Development Review Commission (D/DRC), and the Columbia City Council.
Historic Columbia is a private, non-profit organization that provides ideas and actions for Columbia’s historic places. We do not manage designation programs. The D/DRC is the formal city agency responsible for designation and design review. To contact the D/DRC, please visit columbiasc.net/planning-preservation or call (803) 545-3222.
Why do we need Historic Designation?
Local historic designation is a common tool used to ensure that changes to a neighborhood occur thoughtfully and that the essential features and historic fabric of those neighborhoods are not lost – even as historic homes are used and remodeled to accommodate modern lifestyles. Columbia’s historic districts are also called zoning overlay districts, and they generally are employed to unify design and to address communities’ interests that warrant special consideration and/or protection.
What is the designation process?
The process used to designate a structure or district under the local ordinance is much like the processes used in other land use decisions, such as zoning. To initiate the process, interested parties should contact the City of Columbia Planning Department at the number listed above. An extensive application process involving public meetings and a great deal of historical research, review, and property surveying is to be expected, and, ultimately, approval or denial is decided by the City of Columbia Planning Commission and City Council.
What are the benefits of living in a designated landmark or historic district?
Owners of landmarked properties and properties in local historic districts can be assured that the character-defining qualities of their neighborhood that are present at the time of designation will be preserved for the future. Additionally, owners of individual landmarks or contributing properties may be eligible for a variety of incentives, including the Baily Bill and the Commercial Façade Improvement Loan Program. Projects than can benefit from the tax credit include but are not limited to window restoration, removal of historically incompatible material, roof replacement, electrical, HVAC and plumbing upgrades, masonry repairs, and foundation improvements. More information regarding the financial benefits of these incentives is available through the City of Columbia Planning Department.
Owners of locally designated historic properties may also be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, granting access to the federal 20% Historic Tax Credit, as well as certain other incentives. To learn more about incentives associated with National Register Historic Districts, click here or contact the SC State Historic Preservation Office at (803) 896-6196.
What are the responsibilities of living in a designated landmark or historic district?
If your property is landmarked or is located in a historic overlay district, certain alterations to the property may require approval by the D/DRC or by Planning Department staff. The D/DRC meeting is a public hearing, which requires a legal advertisement for public notice. The applicant is required to furnish plans, photographs, and other information that communicate what he or she is seeking approval to do. The Commissioners are provided with this information before the meeting to allow them time for a site visit if desired. The applicant should be present at the hearing to answer questions about the request. The Commissioners then vote to approve or deny the request. The Commissioners may also approve the application conditionally. These conditions may deal with the design itself, with the timing of completion, or with future approval of additional design elements. After approval, the applicant can take out zoning and building permits and begin work immediately.
- Depending on the overly in which the property is located, examples of projects that require design review include but are not limited to roof replacement or modification, window or door replacement, additions, retaining walls, installing solar panels, or new siding.
- Examples of projects that do not require design review include but are not limited to painting wood siding or previously-painted masonry buildings, installing storm windows or security doors, interior remolding, plantings, installing sprinklers, installing a satellite dish, placing playground equipment in the yard.
Can I add to my home?
Yes. Additions to homes in historic districts are reviewed and approved by the D/DRC regularly, using the design guidelines. Additions do not have to duplicate the original style and materials, but must be compatible in massing, size, and scale.
Can I demolish my home in a historic district?
Non-contributing structures (those that were not built within a district’s period of significance) may be approved by the D/DRC or Planning staff for demolition without a public hearing. Demolition of contributing (or historic) structures is very rare and has only occurred a handful of times.
Does designation impact property values?
A variety of studies – including one done right here in SC by real estate researcher John Kilpatrick and entitled Historic Districts are Good for Your Pocketbook – have shown that properties located in designated historic districts have above average values for the market in which they reside. As Kilpatirck puts it, “Transaction prices of residential real estate in designated historic districts consistently indicate that the market values the protections which flow from such designation,” and other studies from Orlando to Chicago to Denver to Seattle bear similar results.
This FAQ was developed by Historic Columbia. Historic Columbia regularly fields questions about designation, which can be directed to John Sherrer or the City of Columbia D/DRC at (803) 545-3222.