Narberth Historic District -FAQ

Narberth Historic District
Come to a Special Meeting of the Narberth Planning Commission to discuss the proposed Historic District ordinance.
Planning Commission members will be available
to answer questions about the Historic District. Public comment is invited.
Monday, July 12, 7 p.m.
Narberth Borough Hall

The meeting will also be accessible via Zoom and viewable on the Narberth Civic Association Youtube page.
For specific information, visit the “Boards and Commissions Meetings” page on the Borough web site:

Please click below to view the proposed ordinance and map.
Historic District Ordinance Historic District Map
Narberth Historic District: FAQ 

Why is the Borough considering a Historic District?
Everyone recognizes Narberth’s small-town character. It’s partly because of the people who live here and the activities and organizations we share as a community; it’s partly because our streetscape with houses built roughly a century ago and our lush trees and gardens; and it’s partly because of the stories and traditions that we keep and pass on to new members of the community. It’s a unique combination of time and place.
In recent years, the Borough has seen increasingly rapid change. In particular, many of the homes that are part of this historic fabric have been torn down for speculative new housing. The Historic District will slow that process down by creating a review process before a house is torn down or alterations are made that remove features that are important to the character that we know.
Where would the Historic District be located?
The district would focus on areas of the Borough built before 1945, which is the key era of construction that defines Narberth’s small-town character. That means most of the Borough would be covered. Areas built after 1945 would not be in the district, and some buildings within the district would not be include because they were built after 1945.
What would the Historic District mean to the average homeowner?Narberth’s Historic District would be tailored to Narberth’s specific circumstances, so it would be different from the historic districts in places like Lower Merion Township and Philadelphia. In Narberth, property owners would need to obtain approval to demolish a building, or to remove character-defining features, such as dormers, front porches, turrets, or sleeping porches.
Do I need to get permission to paint my house?
No. Improvements like painting, putting on siding, replacing doors and windows or porch railings, or re-landscaping your front yard would not need approval under the historic district. Nor are there design requirements that have to be met. Over time, as residents have made changes like this, they have added to the patina and character of the town.
However, other Borough codes, such as the building code, zoning code, property maintenance code, stormwater code and street tree / landscaping code would still apply.
What about additions?
No. The ordinance would only require approval of demolitions and removals of character-defining features, not to new additions.
Is my garage or shed considered historic?
In a sense, garages that were built before 1945 are part of the character of our town, because they reflect the history of a place that was built before cars were part of everyday life, and before houses were built with garages within them.
However, most garages and sheds in the Borough would not be included in the district. That is because any building that is not visible from the street, not in the first or second “lot layer” as defined in the zoning code, or built after 1945 would not be included.
What about putting solar panels on my roof, or adding a heat pump outside?
Adding solar panels or heat pumps or other kinds of energy-efficient features would not be covered by the historic district. In addition, the review process for activities that do require approval would have to consider the benefits to sustainability when considering an application.
What is an “advisory review”?
The historic district ordinance includes a provision for an advisory review for modifications that would make significant changes to the appearance of a building, such as additions.
The advisory review requests that property owners meet with a design professional to look at design options that help keep property upgrades and maintenance in character with the Borough’s historic fabric, and potentially even information about “green building” materials and techniques.  It is hoped that this will encourage property owners to consider options that support Borough policies and continue to make Narberth the great place that it is.
The advisory review would be non-binding; that is, property owners are encouraged, but not required, to follow any of the suggestions that are given.
Is this legal?
The Borough’s historic district would be created under authority granted to the Borough under the state’s Historic District Act. The ordinance that the Borough is considering is based on a model ordinance developed by the state’s Museum and Historic Commission. State historic preservation staff have been consulting with the Borough throughout this process. The Borough has also received assistance from its planning consultants at the Montgomery County Planning Commission and the historic preservation consultants at the Lower Merion Conservancy.
Will this cost me anything?
The ordinance provides for Borough Council to establish application fees as it deems appropriate (though none are proposed now), similar to fees for other types of applications and permits.
I just learned about this! Hasn’t this happened quickly?
Narberth’s historic district has been years in the making, with many opportunities for public input along the way.
The process began in 2017, when the Borough asked the State Historic Preservation Office and the Lower Merion Conservancy to create a plan for preserving the historic character of the Borough. The planners worked with a small community advisory committee and held a public workshop in May, 2018, before submitting their report to the Borough in October, 2019.
Roughly at the same time, Narberth created a comprehensive plan, which also involved a community advisory committee and a community survey and open house, and was approved in April, 2019. This plan placed a strong emphasis on the preservation of Narberth’s building stock and recommended that the Borough regularly look at its zoning code and other tools as development conditions evolved.
In January, 2020, the Planning Commission recommended to Council that the Borough explore the creation of a Historic District, and Council authorized the Planning Commission to begin work on that project. Since then, the Planning Commission has discussed the development of the meeting at length in four of its meetings. It has also presented its work to Council at two workshop meetings, and received guidance that shaped the final proposal.

Your input is welcome at the July 12, 2021, meeting as this ordinance is still to be adopted.