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Historic Preservation Tools

The Delaware County Planning can help you understand and implement protective regulations for historic resources.

The Planning Department can help you find the right tools to find and preserve historic resources in your community. Each municipality should evaluate their current preservation efforts and consider which of the regulatory tools which best suit your needs.

We’re happy to help you in the process, but the information below includes some background on the most common historic preservation tools. The Planning Department examples of both historical commission ordinances and Act 167 historic district ordinances. The Department provides assistance to any municipality with an interest in forming an historic commission.

Questions about finding the right preservation tools for your community? Contact the Planning Department at 610-891-5200 or

Legal Background

The Pennsylvania Municipal Planning Code (MPC) is the legal framework that enables local municipalities to legislate zoning and regulate the use of land. This includes local government’s authority to “provide for protection of natural and historic features and resources.”

Where historic districts are concerned, Pennsylvania Act 167 (1961 PL 282) is the most important legislative tool. It allows for the creation of a district that, after certification by Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), provides local review of changes in the district.

The National Register of Historic Places (Link to National Register of Historic Places Page) is a well know tool that we can help you understand. Though National Register listing is a prestigious status, it has little regulatory power. Conversely, municipal regulation is the best way to ensure a municipality identifies and protects their most valued resources.

Overlay Ordinances

The Municipalities Planning Code (MPC), specifically Article IV, allows the municipality to use zoning and/or subdivision/land development ordinances to protect historic resources. This can be accomplished by including historic preservation language in amendments to the existing codes.

Whether the surveyed historic resources in a municipality are clustered or widely scattered, a zoning overlay that includes identified resources can be adopted into the zoning ordinance. This overlay can apply regulations and incentives in addition to those of the base zoning. These regulations can address such issues as:

  • Demolition of historic resources
  • Review of alterations
  • Design guidelines
  • Buffering or visual protection
  • Protection for archaeological sites
  • Additional or conditional uses
  • Assessment of impact during the land development process

The review body for activities that take place within an historic overlay district is generally an historical commission. This is an appointed advisory board, but its general responsibilities can consist of more than its review function.

Local Historic Districts (Act 167 Historic District Ordinances)

Act 167 historic district ordinance was established to protect clusters of historic resources in a municipality. It places additional regulations beyond zoning. The district need not be on the National Register. Act 167 (1961 P.L. 282) authorizes the local government to:
  • Delineate an historic district
  • Establish an Historical and Architectural Review Board (HARB) which is advisory to the municipal governing officials
  • Determine guidelines to regulate physical changes within the district
  • Create a review process leading to granting or not granting a Certificate of Appropriateness for changes within the district

Historical Commissions

The core of all preservation activities within a municipality should be the citizens -- residents who have an interest in and knowledge of local history and preservation. They can provide the expertise needed by officials to make the most knowledgeable decisions on preservation techniques best suited to their communities. To use this local know-how, we recommend that each municipality create an historical commission.

An historical commission is an advisory board to the elected officials and is created by an ordinance or resolution that describes its functions. These may vary widely from municipality to municipality. Some of these may be to:

  • Create, maintain, and update local historic resource surveys.
  • Advise on historical matters within the municipality.
  • Research and help guide officials on the best tools for preservation and help them develop expertise in using these tools.
  • Educate the residents about local history and the community’s historic resources, working in tandem with the historical society.
  • Recommend and develop walking tours, local history narratives, and commemorative markers.
  • Act as a review body for any historic overlay ordinance or demolition delay ordinance other than those in an historic district.
  • Comment on subdivision/land development plans with regard to their effect on historic resources.

An historical commission is different from an historical society. The commission members work closely with an historical society, but they are concerned not only with the history of a community but also with the architecture, the “built form.” They use the historical knowledge and information generated by the society to create a context for the community’s historic resources and to help local officials develop strategies for preserving the most significant resources.




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