Certificate of Appropriateness

Durham Historic Properties Criteria Cover Opens in new windowModifications to historic properties within the City of Durham and Durham County require a Certificate of Appropriateness before revisions and construction may be made. A Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) is a document approving work on local historic landmarks or properties in local historic districts based on consistency with the applicable review criteria. When changes are proposed to properties within local districts or to landmarks, the proposed changes are reviewed against the Local Historic Properties Review Criteria (PDF). If the proposed changes are consistent with the Criteria, either staff or the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) will issue the COA. Any COA application that cannot be approved by staff may be set before the HPC for review. A COA is required prior to the issuance of a building permit and is required even if no other permit is needed for the work proposed. If an applicant wishes to appeal a COA decision, they appeal to the Durham Superior Court. An appeal must be received within 90 days of denial.

If you have questions about the process and would like more explanation on the requirements, you can schedule a Pre-Submittal Virtual conference call and talk with one of our preservation planners.

For any questions please call 919-560-4137 or email [email protected].

COA Applicability

The requirement for a COA applies to all properties, regardless of age or significance, that are located in a designated local historic district or designated as local historic landmarks. Any change to the exterior of a property or to a site requires a COA. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Above-ground utilities
  • Alterations and additions
  • Doors
  • Landscaping
  • Lighting
  • New construction
  • Paving
  • Restoration of buildings, walls and fences
  • Roofing
  • Siding
  • Signage
  • Windows

A COA is required regardless of whether the modification to the exterior or site is visible, and regardless of whether or not a building permit is required for the work.


COAs must be applied for prior to starting work on a project. Applications are available online in the category of Historic Preservation.

Pre-Submittal Conference

A pre-submittal conference with Planning staff is required prior to submittal of major COA applications. Bring all specified submittal materials as per the application checklist. Schedule your appointment on the Pre-Submittal Meeting Portal.


Major COAs will be scheduled for a hearing only when the application is complete and free of comments. Applicants should leave sufficient time to receive and resolve any comments issued by staff. At the bottom of this page is a chart Submittal Deadline Schedule showing each meeting’s deadlines.

Staff Review & Approval

Minor COAs generally include requests for small modifications, landscaping and site work, rear decks, and other items that will not significantly alter the original character of historic structures or sites. These applications are accepted any weekday. 

HPC Review & Approval

Major COA applications are required to be reviewed by the HPC (Historic Preservation Commission). The HPC meets on the 1st Tuesday of each month (unless modified due to a holiday). For these applications an agenda deadline is set approximately one month prior to the HPC’s meeting.

To determine which approval process your COA must follow, refer to the Classification of Work Chart, on this page, for your proposed scope. (Please be advised that the classifications chart is in the process of being updated to reflect minor and major COAs only.) 

If you need assistance locating this information, email the Planning staff for more information at [email protected].


For major COAs, the ordinance requires that adjacent property owners are mailed a written notice of the upcoming public hearing at the HPC meeting. A sign is also posted on the subject property. 

Planning staff is available to answer questions, provide technical resources and suggestions, and guide you through the application process. E-mail the Planning staff for more information.

A COA may not be the only approval required prior to starting work on the local historic property. Consult with Planning staff to verify that there are no other requirements, and with City-County Inspections if a building permit will be required. Please see the Section 3.17 of the Unified Development Ordinance for more information about COAs and their validity period.


An appeal of a decision on a COA can be submitted within 30 days of receipt of the decision and is heard by the Board of Adjustment. Appeal of decisions by the Board of Adjustment can be further appealed to the Durham County Superior Court.


Failure to obtain a COA prior to undertaking work could result in delays in permitting and the issuance of a Notice of Violation. Since these local historic designations are part of Durham’s zoning regulations, the property owner may be subject to a daily fine of $500 for every day of non-compliance after receiving a Notice of Violation. Contact [email protected], or call 919-560-4137 and ask to speak with preservation staff immediately to discuss options for rectifying the situation if you have undertaken work without approval.

Classifications of Work

There are 3 classifications of work that have different levels of review and are classified by the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) in their adopted Rules of Procedure. The chart of classifications (PDF) can be found online and include the following 3 classifications.

The HPC’s rules of procedure narrowly define items considered maintenance for review purposes. These items do not require a COA (certificate of appropriateness) approval and include items such as repainting a previously painted surface or replacement of small amounts of material that results in no change in appearance, design, or material.

Minor COAs (formerly Administrative COAs)
Minor COAs generally include requests for small modifications, landscaping and site work, rear decks, and other items that will not significantly alter the original character of local historic structures or sites. These applications are accepted any weekday and are reviewed and approved administratively by Planning staff. Staff typically can process a complete application for a minor COA within 10 business days.

Major COAs
Major COAs are required for modifications to building or site elements that may impact the original character of the structure, construction of new structures, and additions to and demolition of historically significant structures. The HPC reviews and approves Major COAs through a quasi-judicial process at its monthly meetings. For Major COAs, a pre-submittal conference with Planning staff is required, and a monthly agenda deadline is set approximately one month prior to the HPC’s meeting. Adjacent property owners are mailed a written notice, and a sign is posted on the property prior to the HPC meeting.


Forms and Presubmittal Meetings

Historic Properties Development

Payment Portal

  • Payment Portal
    1. Use payment option “4-Planning”
    2. For list of fees, see the DSC Fees and Payment Menu, see Section 7. (page 11) 
    3. Save your receipt and payment number to reference in your application.

Submittal Portal

Please use the portal below to submit your application. If the portal below does not appear, please use this Submit for a Minor Certificate of Appropriateness or Submit for a Major Certificate of Appropriateness application submittal portal

Application Submittal Schedule

2023 Schedule

Application Deadline Comments Issued
 by Staff
Final Deadline (All Comments
Addressed by Applicant)
11/14/22 11/21/22 11/28/22 01/10/23
12/12/22 12/19/22 12/27/22 02/07/23
01/09/23 01/16/23 01/23/23 03/07/23
02/06/23 02/13/23 02/20/23 04/04/23
03/06/23 03/13/23 03/20/23 05/02/23
04/10/23 04/17/23 04/24/23 06/06/23
05/15/23 05/22/23 05/29/23 07/11/23
06/05/23 06/12/23 06/20/23 08/01/23
07/17/23 07/24/23 07/31/23 09/12/23
08/07/23 08/14/23 08/21/23 10/03/23
09/18/23 09/25/23 10/02/23 11/14/23
10/09/23 10/16/23 10/23/23 12/05/23
11/13/23 11/20/23 11/27/23 01/09/24