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Historical Architectural Review Board (HARB)

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Historical Architectural Review Board?
The Historical Architectural Review Board (HARB) is a public body created by the Historic District Ordinance, its members are volunteers appointed by City Council. The Board reviews proposed new construction, demolitions, and exterior alterations to structures within the historic districts, and makes recommendations to City council based on the Allentown HARB's Guidelines for Historic Districts. If the proposed work is acceptable, City council issues a Certificate of Appropriateness, required before work begins.

Who Sits On HARB?
The HARB is composed of seven members and four alternate members. The following professionals must be on the HARB: one registered architect, one licensed real estate broker, one City of Allentown building inspector and one contractor. All of these professional positions also have an alternate member. The remaining three members are citizens with an interest in historic preservation who live or own property in one of the historic districts.

When Is HARB Review Necessary?
Any exterior changes visible from a public street or alley in the historic districts must be reviewed. Changes included:

  • A Change in Design - for example: adding a third floor dormer, enclosing a porch, replacing the existing door, putting up a satellite dish, etc.
  • A Change in Material - for example: installing vinyl or aluminum siding, replacing wooden railings with wrought iron, replacing wood windows with vinyl, etc.
  • A Change in Texture - for example: replacing scalloped shingles with square shingles, replacing decorative porch columns with straight porch columns, etc.
  • A Change in Arrangement - for example: blocking up a window, adding a new door opening, etc.

Major changes such as demolition, removal of porches, construction of additions, or other fundamental alterations all require review. The installation of satellite dishes on requires review!

Policy on the installation of satellite dishes in historic districts

It should be noted that the Board never requires an owner to initiate work. An owner may choose to leave a property "as is" unless another City agency mandates improvements for public health and safety.

When is HARB Review NOT Necessary?
General repair and maintenance, and replacement of deteriorated features with like materials of the identical appearance does not require Board review.

Is It Hard To Get HARB Approval?
The Board wants to make sure that any alterations do not permanently alter the historical architectural character of the property so that a future owner still has the restoration option. When reviewing a case, the Board takes into account the goals the property owner is trying to accomplish and the unique circumstances of each case. Many times the Board has been able to suggest more cost efficient and historically appropriate treatments. On the average, at least nine of every ten applications are approved.

Design guidelines for each of the Historic Districts are available from the Bureau of Planning. These booklets give property owners guidance as to specific rehabilitation practices. An applicant still must appear before the Board if changes are being proposed, but compliance with design guidelines greatly increases the likelihood of approval. Applicants should also consult the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Rehabilitation of Historic Properties for further information on appropriate rehabilitation practices.

When Reviewing Cases Does HARB Take Into Consideration The Potential Cost Of The Proposed Improvements Involved?
Yes. The HARB does consider the cost of the alterations that they would recommend. In some cases these recommendations actually save the property owner money. An example of this is the recognition of the cost of replacing slate roofs and HARB’s allowance of alternative material.

Property owners can find authentic period replacement items at very reasonable prices at the Allentown Preservation League Salvage Warehouse, located at 1518 Walnut Street. For information, call 610-437-1989.

There are also grant funds available for the rehabilitation of properties in two of the historic districts. For properties in Old Allentown, contact the Old Allentown Preservation Association at 610-740-9919. For properties in Old Fairgrounds, contact the City Bureau of Building Standards and Safety, Housing Rehabilitation Division at 610-437-7661.

What Is The Procedure For Applying to HARB?
When considering making exterior changes, contact the HARB Secretary, 4th Floor, City Hall, (610-437-7613) between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. After receiving basic information (name, address, phone number, location of property, work to be done) a field check will be made to determine whether Board review is required.  In most cases, if the applicant is following the recommendations contained in the Guidelines for Historic Districts approval can be obtained at a staff level.   If HARB review is needed, the applicant must fill out an application for a Certificate of Appropriateness and appear before the Board at its next monthly meeting (normally the first Monday of the month). Application for HARB review should be made at least 10 days prior to the meeting date. There is no fee for this application!

After the Board meeting, its recommendations will be sent to City Council for final action at their next regular meeting. If Council approves, necessary permits may be picked up at 8:30 a.m. the next morning in the Division of Inspections, 4th Floor, City Hall, 610-437-7591. A Certificate of Appropriateness will also be mailed to each applicant.

Please note that the normal City permit processes (zoning, building, plumbing, electrical, etc.) apply to the historic districts in exactly the same way as in other sections of the City. HARB approval is based on historic and architectural criteria only and does not relieve the applicant of the responsibility to secure other permits from other City agencies when relevant.