Making Changes

When the owner of a historic property donates an easement to the Trust for Architectural Easements, s/he agrees to the Trust’s review of any change to the property’s exterior. Changes include any modification to the exterior of the building, including restoration and large-scale repair. Recital H of the Trust’s standard easement agreement requires that

“any change to the Protected Façades shall require prior express written approval by Grantee [the Trust] and shall be consistent with the historical character of the Protected Façades …”

Change request approval guidelines, as summarized below, are found in Attachment C of the Trust’s standard easement agreement.

      1. The property owner must obtain advance written approval from the Trust to perform any work on the premises as set forth in the easement. Change requests submitted to the Trust should generally include the Proposed Modification Request Form, drawings or photographs showing existing conditions, drawings showing proposed conditions and historical documentation, when required. The Trust reserves the right to request that the property owner submit additional information and documentation regarding proposed work.
      2. In many cases, the property owner must also receive approval from local historic preservation authorities prior to making exterior alterations to the property. In order to avoid any delay, the Trust recommends that the property owner simultaneously send to the Trust a copy of the materials submitted to the local historic preservation authority.
      3. The Trust’s mailing address is:
        Trust for Architectural Easements
        1906 R Street, NW, Suite 100
        Washington, DC 20009
        Attention: Director of Stewardship
      4. The Trust will review the property owner’s request promptly. Unless the proposed alterations are quite complex, the Trust will respond to the change request within 30 days. If the Trust determines that additional documentation is required, the Trust will request it from the property owner within 15 days. The Trust’s written response will provide that either: (a) the Trust does not object to the plans and work may proceed, (b) the plans require revision, along with an explanation why revisions are necessary, or (c) the Trust does not consent to the plans and work may not proceed.

The purpose of the Trust’s easement is to assure that the architectural, historical and cultural features of the property will be retained and maintained forever, substantially in their current condition. By protecting the distinctive features of the property, the Trust’s easement also preserves and protects the architectural, historical, and cultural characteristics of the neighborhood in which it is located. The goal of the easement then primarily is to preserve the property itself and, secondarily, to preserve the character of the neighborhood or historic district.

The Trust’s easement protects the significant, character-defining architectural features of the property’s exterior including, but not limited to, cornices, porches, cladding, roof shape and appearance, fenestration patterns, doors, windows, and storefronts. Protected historical and cultural features may document the property’s development over time, relate to a significant person or group associated with the property, date from a significant event that occurred at the property, or in some other way document the cultural history of the property, city, state, or nation.

Review Process

To begin the change request process with the Trust, the owner must fill out and submit a Proposed Modification Request Form. The first page of the form asks for contact information, while the second provides space in which owners should describe in detailed narrative form what the proposed modification(s) entail.

Along with the Proposed Modification Request Form, the Trust requests that owners submit any other documentation that illustrates the proposed changes. This may include drawings, photographs, photomontages, or catalog cuts of fixtures, among other things. For example, if an owner would like to reconstruct a decorative window lintel that is not extant but was once found on the building, the owner must submit historical proof of the proposed lintel. This can include historical photographs, plans, or illustrations. If the owner wants to replace an existing building element with a new one, s/he must submit a stated reason for replacement along with specifications and illustrations of the replacement element.

Often, changes to Trust-protected properties require the review of a local preservation commission. While the materials an owner submits for review at the Trust may be sufficient as a review package for submission to a local preservation commission (or vice versa), these reviews are completely separate from one another. As we are a different organization than any local preservation commission, the Trust’s goals with respect to historic preservation may be different than the commission’s. This may ultimately lead to different decisions regarding alterations of the property.

The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation

In the review of change requests, the Trust for Architectural Easements uses the Secretary of the Interior Standards for Rehabilitation. The Trust’s view of the Standards as a guiding document was discussed by Director of Operations and Stewardship Heather Massler in the June 2009 issue of Preservation by Prevention .

The ten Standards for Rehabilitation, which can be accessed with limited discussion of their history and the meaning of rehabilitation on the National Park Service website, are:

  1. A property will be used as it was historically or be given a new use that requires minimal change to its distinctive materials, features, spaces, and spatial relationships.
  2. The historic character of a property will be retained and preserved. The removal of distinctive materials or alteration of features, spaces, and spatial relationships that characterize a property will be avoided.
  3. Each property will be recognized as a physical record of its time, place, and use. Changes that create a false sense of historical development, such as adding conjectural features or elements from other historic properties, will not be undertaken.
  4. Changes to a property that have acquired historic significance in their own right will be retained and preserved.
  5. Distinctive materials, features, finishes, and construction techniques or examples of craftsmanship that characterize a property will be preserved.
  6. Deteriorated historic features will be repaired rather than replaced. Where the severity of deterioration requires replacement of a distinctive feature, the new feature will match the old in design, color, texture, and, where possible, materials. Replacement of missing features will be substantiated by documentary and physical evidence.
  7. Chemical or physical treatments, if appropriate, will be undertaken using the gentlest means possible. Treatments that cause damage to historic materials will not be used.
  8. Archeological resources will be protected and preserved in place. If such resources must be disturbed, mitigation measures will be undertaken.
  9. New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction will not destroy historic materials, features, and spatial relationships that characterize the property. The new work shall be differentiated from the old and will be compatible with the historic materials, features, size, scale and proportion, and massing to protect the integrity of the property and its environment.
  10. New additions and adjacent or related new construction will be undertaken in such a manner that, if removed in the future, the essential form and integrity of the historic property and its environment would be unimpaired.