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Office of Historic Preservation
Christine M. Lewandoski, PP, AICP
Historic Preservation Officer
400 Witherspoon Street, Princeton NJ 08540
609-921-1359 - Fax: 609-688-2026
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Historic Districts & Sites Designated by Princeton Township

Approval of Preservation Plans

Questions and Answers

What Is The Historic Preservation Commission?

The Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) is a local review agency of Princeton. Its purpose is to promote historic preservation, recommend designation of historic properties and review projects for development in locally designated historic districts in Princeton. The Commission is a citizen body appointed by Township Committee whose members serve without pay. Its members have a range of knowledge of architecture, architectural history, landscape design and archaeology.

The Commission reviews preservation plans filed with the Office of Historic Preservation in the Zoning Department in locally designated historic districts and buffer zones.

While the HPC office has on file research materials pertinent to its purpose, it does not serve as a library or research organization. This is a function served more by other organizations such as the Historical Society of Princeton, a private entity, located in the historic Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, Princeton (609-921-6748).

What Is A Preservation Plan?

A preservation plan is a plan filed with the Office of Historic Preservation that outlines how the owner of property in a locally designated historic district or buffer zone will restore or add to the structures on the property. The preservation plan includes the application form, architectural plans, photographs, specifications and may include a site plan or other details.

When Does An Owner Of A Locally Designated Property Need Preservation Plan Approval?

In general, an owner must file for a preservation plan when exterior work is proposed on existing structures, or a new construction is contemplated. Approval is also needed when the owner wishes to paint the house a different color than the existing color. The owner need not file a preservation plan if ordinary maintenance is being done. However, in that instance, the owner should check with the historic preservation office to confirm that no plan approval is necessary and also with the zoning and building departments to see if permits are required.

How Does A Property Owner File For 
Preservation Plan Approval ?

A homeowner files an application form and submits ten copies (four if being reviewed administratively) with architectural plans to the Office of Historic Preservation, located in the Zoning Department. The filing fees are as follows: application fee - $50, professional services escrow - $150. The professional escrow deposit is used for the services of Township professional and legal staff. There is no escrow deposit for plans being approved administratively.

If the application is the subject of a preservation plan only, the Historic Preservation Officer has fifteen calendar days to review the application for completeness. (If the application is part of a development application for site plan or subdivision, the administrative officer of that application has a forty-five calendar day review period for completeness. See Section on Development Application - Page 30) The historic preservation officer prepares a report to the Commission and the application is scheduled on the agenda of the next Commission meeting. A application is reviewed and discussed and a public hearing is conducted on the application. It is suggested that the applicant or a representative attend the hearing. Applications are on file and are available for public inspection at least ten (10) days before the date of the hearing.

What If I'm Not Sure Of What I Want To Do And 1 Just Want To Run My Ideas By the Commission?

You can file a concept plan arid the Commission will informally comment. There is no fee for this concept plan and no comments or plans are binding.

Do I Need A Zoning Permit For The Work I Propose? 

Only if you propose to build an exterior structure or add to an exterior structure. It is also required if you wish to change the use of rooms in the interior. The applicant is asked to file a zoning permit application along with the preservation plan application in order to insure that there are no variances in the proposed plan. 

Can I Have My Preservation Plan Approved Administratively? 

A preservation plan may be approved administratively when it is determined by the administrative officer that the preservation plan conforms to the requirements of the Historic Preservation Ordinance, and will not have a significant impact. The administrative officer with the concurrence by the chair of the Historic Preservation Commission may approve the application without a review by the Commission. Certain changes in an approved preservation plan for projects currently underway may also be approved administratively.

What If I Just Want To Plant A Tree? 

The purpose of the ordinance is not to restrict an owner from gardening or landscaping. An owner may plant a tree on her or his property. If approval of a preservation plan is requested however, landscaping may be required for a new structure as a condition of the approval by the Commission. 

What If I Want To Paint My House? 

If the owner wishes to paint the house or other structure a color or colors that are different from those existing, approval is needed. This approval is usually done administratively. 

What If I Wish To Demolish A Structure Or Part Of A Structure? 

If the demolition of a structure or part of a structure in a historic preservation zoning district is proposed, it shall be approved only if the structure cannot be put to a reasonable use and its preservation will impose undue hardship on the applicant. The applicant must apply to the Historic Preservation Commission for approval of the demolition. 

Must I Hire Professionals To Present My Plan To The Commission? 

An individual owner may present a preservation plans to the Commission. However, the building department or zoning department may require certain professionals to prepare plans or documents for the proper permits. 

What Is The Public Hearing?

A public hearing is a meeting of the Commission, publicly advertised, at which the application is reviewed. After the presentation of the application, the chair of the Commission opens up the hearing to the public for comment. At the hearing, an individual may appear or be represented by an attorney. The applicant may also give power of attorney to an individual or a professional such as an architect.

Kingston Mill Historic District
Kingston Mill Historic District Map

How Do I Get My Plan Approved?

The preservation plan is approved during the public hearing by the review of the Commission according to the Township historic preservation ordinance. The Commission studies the report of the historic preservation officer and reviews the application according to the Secretary of the Interior Standards (standards published by the US Department of the Interior) and the Township's ordinance. The body then votes on the plan and issues a written document called a resolution which outlines the approval or disapproval and any conditions that it may have imposed.

It is important to note that the Historic Preservation Ordinance (lOB-226) states that the criteria and standards in the ordinance are intended to provide a framework within which the designer of the improvement is free to exercise creativity, invention and innovation. The HPC ordinance states that a preservation plan be approved only if the proposed action ( which may be modified by conditions of the reviewing agency)

  • is compatible with the existing structures and landscape of the historic preservation zoning district;

  • would not adversely affect the ambiance, character, and appearance of the historic preservation zoning district and the relationships among structures and between structures and public ways in the district; 

  • would not adversely affect the exterior architectural features and setting of the structure and its historical and architectural interest and

  • is consistent with the criteria and standards of the ordinance. (10B-272.4)

What Do I Do If I Need A Zoning Variance for A Single Family House? 

A single family homeowner in a historic district needing a zoning variance has to request relief from the ordinance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment. An owner prepares an application that includes the zoning variance application as well as a preservation plan. The application is subject to a 45 day completeness review period. ( The administrative officer checks that the application has all the required components.) The historic preservation officer prepares a report to the Historic Preservation Commission. The Commission reviews the application and makes recommendations to the Zoning Board. The HPC, in this instance, has an advisory function. Final approval of the preservation plan as well as any variance granted would be by the Zoning Board of Adjustment. 

What If My Plan Is Not Approved And I Disagree With The Commission's Recommendations? 

The owner may appeal within ten (10) days to the Planning Board. If a variance has been requested the application would have gone to the Zoning Board of Adjustment for approval of both the preservation plan and the variance. In the latter case, the property owner would have to appeal to Township Committee - the governing body of the Township. The appeals process is outlined in the ordinance. (lOB-41.2.(e)) 

Preservation Plan Approval Flow Chart

Applicant Submits Application
15 day Completeness Review by
Historic Preservation Officer
If Complete,
Application is Placed on Agenda
Historic Preservation Officer
Issues Report
Public Hearing by Commission on
Preservation Plan
Commission Issues
Written Resolution
Outlining Approval And Conditions
Applicant's Zoning Permit (If Needed)
and HPC Approval Is Issued

Preservation Plan Flow Chart
With A Zoning Variance Appeal

Single Family Home With A Variance

Applicant Submits Application
45 day Completeness Review by
Zoning Officer and
Historic Preservation Officer
If Complete,
Application is Placed on HPC Agenda
Historic Preservation Officer
Issues Report
Public Hearing by Commission on
Preservation Plan
Commission Issues Written Report
to Zoning Board of Adjustment
Recommending Approcal and Conditions
Zoning Board Public Hearing
Zoning Board Deliberates and Takes Action
If Preservation Plan and Variance is Approved
Applicant's Zoning Permit
and HPC Approval Is Issued
Applicant Applies For Building Permit
To The Building Department

How Does The Township Designate A Historic District?

Areas of study for districts are outlined in the Princeton Community Master Plan. When an area is chosen for study as a district, a letter will be mailed to owners in the area of study which outlines the following:

  • The HPC is researching the area for historic data.

  • An architectural survey will be performed by a consultant who may be seen surveying the area of study along with staff and HPC members. 

  • The letter will ask the owner for any known historical facts pertaining to the study area or of any persons who may be interested in providing historic information.

After the study is completed, the proposed boundaries of the district are drawn. The survey will be reviewed by the HPC.

After completion of the survey, the HPC holds a public hearing on the proposed boundaries. Notice of this hearing is included on the HPC agenda, and a letter is sent to all property owners in the area of study inviting them to the hearing. Public comments on the proposed designation are welcomed by the HPC at the hearing.

After the public's input, the HPC deliberates and may pass a resolution to recommend to Township Committee that a district be created.

If a district is recommended for designation, the Township Attorney is instructed to prepare an ordinance for introduction by Township Committee on the proposed district. The introduced ordinance is referred to the Planning Board for comment. Township Committee conducts a public hearing. If adopted, the district is designated.