Historic District Design Guidelines Rewrite Project

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Design Guideline Revisions

As we all work through this time to modify operations during stay at home orders, the Town is finding ways to move projects forward. The original schedules for the Historic District Commission's (HDC) Design Guideline Committee meetings have been affected by this change in operation. The dates scheduled for the April committee meetings are changing, and staff is working to adjust schedules to keep this project moving forward.

At this time, we are requesting the HDC members to provide individual reviews of the consultant's proposed revisions.  These are shared here, and the public is welcome to comment on the proposed revisions by emailing your comments to Anya Grahn at agrahn@townofchapelhill.org.

Proposed Revisions


 Proposed Revisions:
 March 16, 2020
 Chapel Hill Design Guidelines - Part 1 Draft
 April 4, 2020
 Chapel Hill Design Guidelines - Part 2 Draft
 May 6, 2020
 Chapel Hill Design Guidelines - Part 3 Draft
 June 30, 2020

 Chapel Hill Design Guidelines - Part 4 DRAFTs:


Upcoming Meetings

Date: Meeting:
Meeting Materials:

Monday, March 16, 2020 at 2pm--CANCELLED

HDC Committee Meeting*

Town Hall, First Floor Conference Room (102)

 Chapel Hill Design Guidelines - Part 1 Draft

HDC Committee Meeting*
Tuesday, June 23, 2020 (TENTATIVE)
Public Information Meeting

Tuesday, July 14, 2020 at 6:30pm
HDC Regular Meeting

*Committee meetings are special meetings dedicated specifically to the revision of the Design Guidelines. All of these meetings, as well as the Public Information Meetings and the HDC’s regular monthly meetings, are open to the public to attend.

Past Meetings

Date: Meeting:
Meeting Materials:
Monday, February 17, 2020 at 5:30pm   Public Information Meeting  

Carolina Coworking, 206 West Franklin Street, Patio Entrance, Lower Level, Chapel Hill, NC 27516

Meeting Schedule:

5:30-6:00pm : Informational Open House

6:00-7:00pm : Brief presentation with opportunity for public comment



Meeting Notes - 2.17.2020

Poster - Tentative Schedule

Poster - What are the Design Guidelines

Poster - Why We're Revising the Design Guidelines Poster
Monday, February 17, 2020 at 2pm   HDC Committee Meeting*   Town Hall, First Floor Conference Room (102) 

Committee Agenda - 2.17.20 

Homework for 2.17.2020 Meeting



Frequently Asked Questions:

What are the Design Guidelines for Chapel Hill Historic Districts?

The current Design Guidelines for the Chapel Hill Historic Districts were adopted by the Town Council in June 2002. The Guidelines set the standards for property owners and for the Historic District Commission (HDC) on what is congruent, or consistent, with the character of the Town’s three local historic districts: Franklin-Rosemary, Cameron-McCauley, and Gimghoul. Together these historic districts encompass more than 500 properties.

Based on the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, the Design Guidelines are locally-tailored to encourage ongoing protection and preservation of each district’s historic character. The Design Guidelines provide direction for exterior alterations, changes in exterior materials, new construction, additions, significant site changes, and the relocation or demolition of buildings.

The Design Guidelines include a brief description and history of Chapel Hill, the Historic District Commission, the Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) process, and recommendations for specific site and building features. The document is divided into sections on various building elements and project types. Each section includes design considerations and specific guidelines to follow to ensure congruity. For example, the exterior lighting section suggests the use of directional fixtures and down lighting to prevent excessive nighttime lighting.

The purpose of the Design Guidelines is to provide direction to:

  • Property owners as they plan exterior changes to ensure that changes are congruent with the special character of the districts

  • The Historic District Commission (HDC) as it reviews the appropriateness of all proposed exterior changes throughout the districts

  • Staff as they provide administrative approvals for minor projects, such as those not requiring a building permit

Interior alterations, routine maintenance, and minor repairs to the building’s exterior that do not change the appearance or materials are not included in the design review process.

Current copy of the Design Guidelines for the Chapel Hill Historic Districts

Who uses the Design Guidelines?

The Design Guidelines provide direction and guidance to Town staff, the Historic District Commission (HDC), and applicants on the preservation of the historic character and qualities of the Town’s three local historic districts.

Why do the Design Guidelines need to be revised?

The Chapel Hill Historic District Commission (HDC) adopted the current Design Guidelines in 2001; they were adopted by the Chapel Hill Town Council in 2002. While the Town has been fortunate to have thoughtfully conceived, carefully written, and highly detailed Design Guidelines, they are nearing twenty years old. The Design Guidelines play a crucial role in the HDC’s review of Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) applications, and therefore need to reflect today’s technological and modern construction techniques. It is important that they provide a sound basis for the consistent review of applications for incongruity with the special character of the relevant district and help avoid arbitrary or capricious decisions.

By revising the guidelines, the Town and the HDC hope to:

  • Clarify specific guidance and standards by refining the language of the design guidelines

  • Revise sections that address substitute materials as well as the use of new technology and new construction materials by incorporating additional guidance

  • Revise the section on minor works delegated to Town staff for approval, as well as exempt repairs, to provide greater clarity and specificity

  • Update the graphics to more clearly communicate the intent of the guidelines and basis for decisions

  • Create a modern template that is easy to read and use

This project is important to the future of historic preservation in Chapel Hill. Current and accessible Design Guidelines are crucial to addressing the needs of the community and maintaining the unique character of the Town’s historic districts. This project will also play a constructive role in bringing the benefits of historic preservation processes and tools to a wider range of Chapel Hill’s historic neighborhoods by incorporating community input.

What is the process for revising the Design Guidelines?

The Town has hired a consultant to review, revise, and update the Design Guidelines.  The consultant will be meeting with staff and the HDC Design Guidelines Committee regularly to discuss changes and gather input; these meetings will be open to the public and noticed on the Town’s calendar. The consultant will also work closely with the State Historic Preservation Office (HPO) to ensure that the updated Design Guidelines comply with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards. In summer 2020, the updated Design Guidelines will be presented to the HDC for adoption. 

In addition to the regular Committee meetings, two public information meetings will be held at the beginning and the end of the project to solicit public feedback on the Design Guidelines. The first meeting will be held on February 17, 2020, and the final meeting is tentatively scheduled for June 2020.

Who can I contact about the Design Guideline project?

Anya Grahn, Senior Planner  
Planning Department, Town of Chapel Hill
405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Phone: 919-969-5059

Email: agrahn@townofchapelhill.org

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