Certain properties in the City of Rockville are designated as local historic districts in order to preserve their historic character and relevance to Rockville’s heritage. Historic designation is a recognition of the importance of a property’s structure or landscape to the Rockville community and can provide financial benefits to the owner. Designation also places a higher standard on the maintenance, alteration, or removal of structures than other properties in the city not deemed of historical significance.
Historic District Eligibility
In recommending the establishment of a Historic District, the Historic District Commission (HDC) considers the historic significance of either multi-site historic districts or single-site historic districts. Multi-site districts have more than one property that contributes to the overall character or history that is to be preserved, such as the West Montgomery Avenue Historic District. Single-site districts contain one building and its accessories, if present. The Allnutt House at 541 Beall Avenue is a good example of a single-site historic district.
Any person may nominate a property for historic district review by the HDC. A structure that is the subject of a demolition application is also automatically reviewed by Historic Preservation staff and the HDC for significance to the city under Section 25.14.01.d.1(c) of the Zoning Ordinance.
Historic District Criteria
Any building in the city that meets adopted criteria of architectural, cultural, historical, landscape, or archaeological significance is potentially eligible. Intangible resources such as folklore and oral histories are important, but for this purpose are to be considered supportive resources.
Historic districts can be described as single resources or a contiguous group of buildings, structures, appurtenances, environmental settings, sites, objects, and spaces, which reflect the following qualifications:
- Events: Structures and sites associated with events, or a pattern of events or historic trends, that are considered important, or significant, in Rockville, Montgomery County, Maryland, or national history and social development.
- Persons: Structures and sites associated with the lives of persons making significant contributions in Rockville, Montgomery County, Maryland, or national history, and which illustrate the person’s important achievements.
- Cultural: Structures and sites significant to the cultural traditions of a community, such as associated with the development of the culture of a particular local ethnic group.
- Architecture: Properties significant for their physical design or construction, including architecture, engineering, landscape architecture, and artwork.
Properties that are determined to be of historical or cultural significance must also have sufficient integrity to convey the sense and time of its significance. Elements of integrity for historical significance are:
- Location: Areas which consist of a contiguous grouping of buildings, sites, objects, and spaces, a majority of which continue to exist within the area where they were first created in a mutual relationship of traditional acceptability.
- Design: Areas that have a sense of cohesiveness expressed through a similarity and/or variety of detail relatedness, architectural or otherwise, based upon the abstracts of aesthetic quality. These include scale, height, proportion, materials, colors, textures, rhythm, silhouette, siting, etc.
- Setting: Areas that are readily definable by man-made and/or natural boundaries and/or which have a major focal point or points within the given area.
- Materials: Areas that have a sense of cohesiveness expressed through a similarity and/or variety of material relatedness based upon traditional material use which contributes to a sense of locality.
- Workmanship: Areas that have a sense of homogeneity reflective of quality aesthetic effort of those periods that represent the majority percentage of the units within the historic district.
- Feeling: Areas that impact human consciousness with a sense of time and place.
- Association: Areas that relate nationally, state-wise, or locally, to the lives of individuals, to events created by these individuals, and/or to those visual aesthetic qualities that reflect the feeling of time and place.
Historic Designation Process
- The process begins upon a request from a property owner or a nomination for historic designation from another party. The nomination could come from the Mayor and Council, the Planning Commission, or the HDC itself, as well as from the community.
- After staff analyzes the property for potential eligibility and makes a recommendation, the HDC holds a public hearing to review the history and architectural significance of the site and determine if it meets the adopted City of Rockville Historic District Designation Criteria. The HDC is not permitted to consider other factors in their review for designation. If the HDC finds that a nominated site meets the criteria to be eligible for designation, it makes a recommendation to the Planning Commission for a map amendment to add the property into a historic district.
- The Planning Commission will review the designation and proposed map amendment and make a recommendation to the Mayor and Council.
- The Mayor and Council must authorize filing for a historic district rezoning on its behalf through the Sectional Map Amendment process. The Mayor and Council may decline to authorize an application, and the Historic Designation Process is ended without the zoning change.
- If authorized, staff prepares the Sectional Map Amendment application and submits it to the City Clerk to schedule a public hearing.
- The Planning Commission reviews the Sectional Map Amendment application and makes a recommendation to the Mayor and Council prior to the public hearing. The staff report includes a summary of the planning area and any specific recommendations for the property in the master plan. It is the task of the Planning Commission to alert the Mayor and Council and community of potential planning issues that might arise from the rezoning. Since HD (Historic District) is an overlay zone and does not affect the development standards or permitted uses in the underlying zone, there is generally no impact unless the structures on the site are to be demolished or redevelopment is a possibility. In these cases, the Planning Commission will consider how the rezoning and Historic District Guidelines applied to the property would affect the master plan.
- The Mayor and Council hold a public hearing after the map amendment has been advertised. It may consider all of the concerns and comments brought up by the HDC and Planning Commission as well as public benefit, tourism, educational opportunities, and the overall effect on the City of Rockville. If the designation is controversial, the record of the hearing is left open for a period of time to receive additional comments.
- If the proposed historic district designation is found to be appropriate, the Mayor and Council direct staff to prepare an ordinance to grant the map amendment and introduce it. It then goes to a vote for adoption. By adopting the Sectional Map Amendment, the Mayor and Council identify the nominated district as possessing certain architectural, cultural, or historical significance to the city and the community and that it should be preserved.
- After adoption, the city's zoning map is amended to show that the district is zoned HD for Historic District in addition to its underlying zone. The HDC is appointed to regulate exterior changes to the districts using the city's adopted design guidelines.