Planning and Development

Certificate of Appropriateness (COA)


The purpose of a Certificate of Appropriateness is to help maintain and return the lost or diminished architectural significance of Houston's tangible past. A Certificate of Appropriateness is required for projects that would alter the exterior appearance of a designated historic property. This includes alterations, additions, demolition, or relocation of a landmark or structure within an historic district or new construction within an historic district. The Historic Preservation Ordinance does not regulate land use, exterior paint colors, interior alterations or landscaping.


Guidelines

There are no general design guidelines established for all the historic districts in the City of Houston. However, some historic districts have design guidelines available as a tool to help homeowners and developers with their projects. The National Park Service offers various publications to assist with needs in preservation, rehabilitation, restoration and reconstruction. For example, Preservation Briefs cover a variety of projects from new additions to conserving energy and The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties can help maintain the historic character of the building during the rehabilitation process.


Deed Restrictions

Many neighborhoods have deed restrictions which are intended to help preserve the character of the area. Typically, work restricted by deed needs to be approved by the neighborhood association to insure the project does not violate deed restrictions. Should the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission (HAHC) approve work that the neighborhood association does not consider appropriate, the decision made by the neighborhood association takes precedence over that of the HAHC. Applicants are encouraged to find out if they live in a deed restricted neighborhood and speak to their neighborhood association prior to submitting a COA application to determine if the proposed work meets neighborhood approval.


90 Day Waiver

The 90-day waiver is only applicable to Landmarks outside a historic district. Should the HAHC deny the project and not issue a certificate of appropriateness, the applicant is entitled to a 90-day waiver certificate. In which case, the applicant can go forward with their project after waiting 90-days beginning on the date the application was accepted by staff and if it meets local building codes. For example, if staff determines the application is complete on January 1st and if the certificate of appropriateness is denied by HAHC, work can not begin until March 31st.


 

COA Application Process

There is no fee for filing a COA application and the Planning and Development Department’s Historic Preservation staff can guide you through the process. It is highly recommended that applicants contact a staff member in the beginning stages of a project before any designs are finalized, and well in advance of an application deadline. Staff is able to offer technical assistance in order to ensure proposed projects are sensitive to the historic character of the designated site or district. If the application is approved, any plans required to obtain a building permit will need to be reviewed and stamped by a Historic Preservation staff member at 611 Walker, 6th floor. Please contact staff to make a COA plan review appointment. Projects issued a COA by the HAHC for work on a historic building are eligible for a 50% discount on building permit fees and may be eligible for a City of Houston tax exemption. For more information please download the “Economic Incentives for Historic Buildings” document from the Historic Preservation Forms web section to learn more as well as visit the Finance Department’s Historic Site Tax Exemption. Any project that is denied a certificate of appropriateness is not eligible for tax exemptions or other financial benefits offered by the city, such as discounts on permit fees. Applicants are encouraged to speak with staff even if your certificate is denied to explore other alternatives.


COA Application Requirements

If your project requires a COA, a complete application should be submitted to staff 15 days prior to the next HAHC meeting, which meets once a month. Please refer to the schedule on the COA application form or at the Houston Archaeological and Historic Commission (HAHC) web section.

COA Application and Checklists may be downloaded from the Historic Preservation Forms web section.

A complete application includes a COA application form signed by the legal property owner along with the following documentation:

  • Written Description detailing existing conditions and the proposed activity
  • Current Photographs of the subject of the proposal
  • Application Checklist for the proposed action type and applicable documentation requested within the checklist
  • Renderings or drawings detailing existing conditions and the proposed activity, when applicable
  • Deed Restriction compliance, when applicable

Below is a list of project types as defined by the Historic Preservation Ordinance and additional application documentation that may be required depending on the scope of the project. Checklists are available for download to assist applicants in preparing submission materials. Included the checklist in the application package to assist in staff application review.


 

1. ADDITION, ALTERATION, REHABILITATION and/or RESTORATION of any landmark; protected landmark; structure in an historic district; or building, structure or object that is part of an archaeological site

  • site and subject information
  • detailed description of proposed work
  • material description, specifications, and/or samples
  • criteria adherence
  • current photographs of subject of work
  • historic architectural evidence of authenticity, when applicable
  • site plan, architectural plans and elevations

2. NEW CONSTRUCTION in an historic district
  • site and subject information
  • detailed description of proposed work
  • material description, specifications, and/or samples criteria adherence
  • deed restriction adherence, when applicable current photographs of subject of work
  • site plans, architectural plans and elevations

3. RELOCATION* of a landmark; protected landmark; structure within or into an historic district; or a building, structure or object in an archaeological site
  • site and subject information
  • destination site information
  • detailed description of proposed work
  • criteria adherence
  • current photos of subject of proposal and destination site
  • site plans

4. DEMOLITION* of a landmark; protected landmark; contributing structure** in an historic district; or a building,
  • structure or object in an archaeological site.
  • site and subject information
  • certified appraisal of the property value
  • assessed value of the land and improvements thereon
  • all former appraisals obtained during property ownership
  • all property sale or rent listings for prior year
  • consideration of new uses or adaptive reuses for the property
  • rehabilitation cost estimates
  • comparison costs of rehabilitation, demolition and new construction
  • reuse, recycle or salvage plans for materials if COA is granted
  • nonprofit mission evaluation as it relates to the proposal, if applicable
  • current photographs of subject of work
  • current site plan

*Relocation and Demolition COA applicants must give notice of the application by placing a sign on site of the proposal informing the public of the HAHC meeting when the application will be considered. Please refer to the schedule on the general application for HAHC meeting dates, application deadlines, and sign posting deadlines. Download the Demolition and Relocation COA Sign Requirements document from Historic Preservation Forms/Applications section and/or refer to the Houston Code of Ordinances, Chapter 33 VII, Section 33-238.1 for detailed sign requirements. ** For procedures for the demolition of a noncontributing structure in an historic district, please contact a historic preservation staff member.

 



5. MANDATORY REPAIR of a landmark; protected landmark; or of a building, structure or object within an historic district or archaeological site. Include the following material with your application for a mandatory repair:
  • description of the structure's condition and the reason for the citation
  • copy of the citation order
  • current photographs of subject of work
NOTE: If a historic structure has been damaged by fire or is in disrepair due to neglect, you must provide sufficient photographic support that completely documents the condition. If fire damaged, you must provide a copy of the Fire Department Damage Report. If the building is under an order or orders from Neighborhood Protection Division, City of Houston, to repair or demolish, you must provide copies of all correspondence and orders issued for the site. If any of the information is not provided, your application will be delayed as it cannot be considered a complete application.

6. EXCAVATION of an archaeological site Include the following material with your application for an excavation project:
  • description of the proposed excavation work
  • protective measures proposed to preserve the associated archaeological resources
  • mitigation and stabilization plans for associated archaeological resources
  • current photographs of subject of work


Working Without a COA / Denial of a COA

City of Houston building inspectors regularly inspect historic properties to insure compliance with approved Certificates of Appropriateness. When work has been commenced without a COA or a valid building permit, an inspector may issue a stop work order and request that the owner seek a COA. If the work continues, a building official can issue a citation with fine. Applying for a COA at the point that no further design changes will be drafted and providing a clear scope of work with your application, is optimal in avoiding delays in the project. If changes to a project granted a COA is necessary, the owner or project applicant may need to reapply for a revised COA. Please contact staff to discuss your options if a stop work order is issued for your project or if you wish to perform work outside of the scope of work approved in a Certificate of Appropriateness.