About the Local Historic District Design Standards

Download the current draft of the Blue Bonnet Hills LHD Preservation Plan and Design Standards (PDF, 74 pages, 9 MB, Oct 22 2014)


Design Standards are the core component of the Preservation Plan required by the City as part of the Local Historic District application. Other components of the Preservation Plan include the goals of the LHD, an explanation of the review process for permits and modifications, an description of the architectural character of the district on which the Design Standards are based, treatment guidelines for historic buildings, and a list of resources for more information on historic preservation.

The Design Standards contain several sections outlining the range of construction and rehabilitation work under the purview of the Local Historic District. This range can include, but does not necessarily need to include:

  • Repair and Rehabilitation of Contributing Buildings
  • Additions to Contributing Buildings
  • Work on Non-Contributing Buildings, and
  • New Construction.

Each of these sections contains detailed instructions describing the type of work allowed within the district including, but not limited to, work on exterior walls, roofs, windows, porches, and landscaping. For new construction and additions to contributing buildings, if the district chooses to regulate this type of work, the design standards may also describe aspects of massing, scale, and the setbacks allowed for the new structures.


The purpose of the Design Standards are:

(a) to provide a set of specific instructions and examples tailored to the district by which the Historic Landmarks Commission can determine if proposed work to buildings and landscapes contributing to the district is respectful and compatible to the historic design characteristics of the building or landscape under review and to the district as a whole;

(b) to provide a guide for property owners, tenants, contractors, design professionals, and realtors on how to responsibly repair and maintain contributing buildings and landscapes, how to design compatible rehabilitation and new construction projects, and how to build accurate restorations and reconstructions of missing historic elements, buildings, and landscapes in the district; and

(c) to provide a guide for achieving the above goals alongside the goals of sustainable design and construction

Overview of Relevant City Regulations

Article 4 of Chaper 11, Title 25 of the Austin City Code outlines the special requirements for historic structures when applying for building and demolition permits. § 25-11-212 states that “Until a person obtains a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Commission or the building official, the person may not change, restore, rehabilitate, alter, remove, or demolish an exterior architectural or site feature of a designated historic landmark or a contributing structure whether or not a building or demolition permit is required.”

This prohibition does not apply if the historic preservation officer determines that a change or restoration:

  • 1. is ordinary repair or maintenance that does not involve changes in architectural and historical value, style, or general design;
  • 2. is an accurate restoration or reconstruction of a documented missing historic architectural element of the structure or site;
  • 3. does not visually affect the historic character of the structure or site from an adjacent public street and is limited to:
    • a) a ground-floor, one-story addition or outbuilding with less than 600 square feet of gross floor area;
    • b) a second-story rear addition to a two-story building, so long as the addition is not visible from an adjacent public street; or
    • c) a pool, deck, fence, back porch enclosure, or other minor feature

The Design Standards define more specifically what kinds of changes will be allowed and to provide a guide for residents on how to responsibly repair historic buildings and design well in a historic district. All work requiring a Certificate of Appropriateness within the district will need to follow the district’s Design Standards. We should craft these definitions with knowledge of the historic architectural characteristics of the district. The definitions should allow only those changes which celebrate the historical value of the district through responsible repair and maintenance, well-considered rehabilitation and addition, and accurate restoration and reconstruction. Each of these treatment options is based upon the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and Guidelines for the Treatment of Historic Properties (http://www.nps.gov/hps/tps/standguide/).

Starting Points

Local Historic District Design Standards Template, Preservation Austin (pdf)
How to Develop Design Standards for Your Local Historic District, Preservation Austin (pdf)

Developed by Preservation Austin (formerly Hertiage Society of Austin) and a number of local preservation professionals to assist neighborhood efforts, this local historic district design standard template is a starting point to help us begin the conversation about design standards. Preservation Austin developed the template from a study of standards developed in Austin and other comparable cities. We are free to edit this template as much or as little as we’d like.

Hyde Park Preservation Plan and Design Standards (670 properties, 485 contributing) (pdf)

Castle Hill Preservation Plan and Design Standards (175 properties, 116 contributing) (pdf)

Harthan Street Preservation Plan and Design Standards (10 properties, 9 contributing) (pdf)

For more information

“Local Historic Districts,” City of Austin Historic Preservation Office, http://www.austintexas.gov/department/local-historic-districts

“Secretary of the Interior’s Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings,” National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov/hps/tps/standguide/rehab/rehab_approach.htm

“Working on the Past in Local Historic Districts,” National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov/tps/education/workingonthepast/index.htm