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Certificate of Approval Process
Certificate of Approval Process
Much like the process of receiving a building permit, application for making changes to a historic property must receive approval. The HDC's version of a permit is called a Certificate of Approval. The HDC reviews each Certificate of Approval application and can approve it, deny it, or approve it with conditions. The review takes place at a regularly scheduled HDC meeting, held the third Thursday of each month. The HDC differs from most boards and commissions in that the commissioners are expected to offer suggestions and help to applicants to solve use and preservation issues.

Using the adopted design guidelines, the HDC reviews site and building design to ensure compatibility with the style and form of the building itself as well as neighboring buildings and the streetscape. A letter issuing a Certificate of Approval with or without conditions or denying an application is issued one week after a decision is rendered. Recourse to a disputed decision is through district court.

The Certificate of Approval process is distinct from other city permitting procedures. The applicant is responsible for receiving all necessary building and use permits prior to construction. Applicants who have formulated a design idea are encouraged to utilize the courtesy review process to obtain HDC input prior to submitting a Certificate of Approval application and final development plan.

Courtesy Review
An HDC courtesy review is an informal non-binding review of a concept or proposal for exterior or landscape changes to a property within a historic district. If the HDC identifies aspects of the project that are incompatible with the existing building and neighborhood character to be preserved, commissioners will offer suggestions on ways to reduce the impact. Courtesy reviews are held at regularly scheduled HDC meetings. The project architect, if there is one, and the applicant should attend the meeting. Following a courtesy review, the applicant files for a Certificate of Approval.

To schedule a courtesy review, the applicant must submit materials to the Historic Preservation Office by the last Tuesday of the month in order to be scheduled for the following month's HDC meeting. The applicant must furnish a proportional site plan showing existing building footprints, trees and accessories such as parking lots, access, etc. and the locations of proposed construction. Sketches of proposed elevations and a schedule of materials (if available) should be submitted. The submissions need not be finished plans, but can be hand drawn sketches by the property owner. Photographs can be helpful to understand current conditions.

Staff Approval
The Chief of Planning may issue a Certificate of Approval without HDC review when an application for fences, small accessory structures, signage and mature tree removal conforms to the City's adopted design guidelines or is recommended by the City Forester in the case of tree removal. The request must also meet applicable Rockville code requirements.

State law requires that an application be approved or denied within 45 days of filing of a complete application with detailed plans, or the application is automatically approved. A time extension may be granted by the applicant if an application plan requires more information or reworking to be acceptable for approval. If an application is denied, an identical application may not be resubmitted for one year.

Minor projects that have no significant impact and meet the adopted design guidelines are generally completed in one month without a courtesy review. When a courtesy review is requested, the process can take longer; anywhere from two to seven months for complex projects that need multiple courtesy reviews. Both the courtesy review and the Certificate of Approval review can overlap and be concurrent with other review processes such as for use permits and special exceptions.

HDC Review Guidelines
Several guidelines have been adopted by the HDC to aid them in making Certificate of Approval decisions. In 1975, the City commissioned Dr. Anatole Senkevitch, Jr. of the University of Maryland School of Architecture, to research and prepare a comprehensive preservation plan for the City's historic districts. Dr. Senkevitch also wrote a document entitled Recommended Architectural Design Guidelines for the Exterior Rehabilitation of Buildings in Rockville's Historic Districts, which was adopted in 1977. This document is available free at the City's Department of Community Planning and Development Services.

In 1987, the HDC adopted a summary series of technical briefs called Guidelines for Historic Property Owners. These technical guides were revised in 2004 and formally adopted by the Mayor and Council. The summaries rely on the existing design guidelines and on the U.S. Secretary of the Interiors Standards for Rehabilitation, which also have been adopted by the HDC as guidelines in its deliberations. These guidelines assist property owners in understanding what will be reviewed for compatibility by the HDC and can help applicants in planning appropriate modifications to historic buildings. An additional technical guide on accessory structure was adopted in 2006.