The Providence Historic District Commission was created by in 1960 to protect the unique physical character, historic fabric and visual identity of the city. Providence’s local historic districts are established as overlay zoning districts after extensive neighborhood consultation and education, and a public hearing and adoption by the City Council.
There are eight Local Historic Districts in Providence, containing a total of approximately 2,500 properties. Click here to learn more about the districts.
The PHDC regulates development in designated Local Historic Districts by acting as a design review body. Chapter 27 of the City’s zoning ordinance established the authority of the PHDC to approve or deny proposed exterior work to any property located within the local historic districts.
The PHDC is a citizen volunteer board consisting of no more than 12 members, 10 appointed by the Mayor and two City Council members. Current Members:
Michael Marino, Chair
Glen Fontecchio, Vice-Chair
Cornelis de Boer
Mildred Parrillo, Alternate
Meetings & Agendas
The PHDC typically meets on the fourth Monday of every month at 4:45 p.m at 444 Westminster Street, 1st floor conference room.
Applications and Forms
The Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission administers a Certified Local Government (CLG) Grant Program for municipal historical preservation activities.
Providence is one of eighteen Rhode Island communities that are Certified Local Governments. To qualify for CLG status, a community must have a historic district zoning ordinance and a historic district commission. CLG communities may participate in the nomination of properties to the National Register of Historic Places, and are eligible to apply for federal 50% matching grants for survey and planning projects. Eligible projects for grant funding would include identification and evaluation of significant historic and archaeological properties, the nomination of eligible properties to the National Register, historic preservation plans and certain education-related activities.
Frequently Asked Questions.
Do all changes require review?
The PHDC reviews changes which affect the exterior of a property or its setting. Since ordinary repairs and replacement of features can affect exterior appearance, these actions are also subject to review. Interior alterations are not reviewed; nonetheless, be aware of interior changes which have exterior impacts, such as room renovations which require closing up an existing window or cutting a new door.
How long does the review take?
By law, the PHDC has 45 days from the receipt of a complete application to make a decision whether to approve or deny the project. Most applications are reviewed within 30 days; staff reviews, where no public meeting is required, are usually completed in less than a week. All PHDC decisions are given in writing; no approvals are made verbally.
Are PHDC decisions binding?
Yes. If the PHDC does not approve a project, it cannot go forward. The law does provide an appeal period of 20 days from the date of a written decision. Appeals go to the Zoning Board of Appeal, then to the Superior Court and Supreme Court if necessary.
Are there any items exempt from review?
The following items are exempt from PHDC review:light fixtures, security grilles, portable window air conditioners, buzzers/ intercom systems, alarm devices, door hardware, utility meters, window boxes, ornamental statuary, garden furnishings, plant materials, temporary signs, lawn irrigation systems, and paint colors.
Will I be told what color to paint my house?
NO! Paint color, which does not change the inherent integrity of a structure, is exempt from review. However, paint removal methods (other than hand scraping and sanding), the painting of previously unpainted surfaces, and any repairs needed before repainting are all subject to review. Advice on appropriate paint colors and surface preparation is available on request from the PHDC staff. The PHDC does review sign colors and colors integral to a material, such as the color of roof shingles.
What about exterior siding?
Installation of vinyl, aluminum or other modern composition sidings can substantially alter the appearance of wood clapboards and shingles and can obliterate details such as window and door surrounds, brackets, moldings, and other elements. Artificial sidings are not appropriate on historic buildings. In addition, sandblasting is extremely damaging to wood and brick surfaces and will not be approved.
Can windows be replaced?
Usually, original window sash can be repaired and retained. If not, the replacement should match the historic sash in size, operation, materials, configuration, number of lights (panes), minute detail, and profile. Window manufacturers today offer a wide variety of factory-made windows appropriate for installation in historic buildings. Generally, aluminum and vinyl windows sash-within-a frame units are not appropriate replacements for historic wood sash. Typical replacement units are “sash-pack” kits or new-construction units.
I have a “plaque” on my house. Does that make it historic?
Most houses with plaques on them have been granted their marker by the Providence Preservation Society as part of its Historic Property Marker Program. This marker does NOT designate whether or not a structure is within the jurisdiction of the Providence Historic District Commission. To find out if your building is within a city-designated historic overlay zone contact the PHDC staff, Jason Martin, at 401.680.8517 or .
What happens if a property owner does not get PHDC approval for a locally designated property before doing exterior work?
All buildings within the PHDC’s jurisdiction will be flagged by the Department of Inspection & Standards (DIS) during the building permit application process for exterior work. A Certificate of Appropriateness or letter of exempt issued by the PHDC or its staff for is needed for all locally designated historic properties to be issued a building permit. Failure to gain approval from the PHDC before work begins may result in a violation being issued by the DIS, a lien being placed on the property and the issue being referred to the City’s Housing Court for adjudication.
Jason Martin, Preservation Planner
Providence Historic District Commission
Joseph A. Doorley, Jr. Municipal Building
Department of Planning & Development
444 Westminster Street, Suite 3A
Providence, RI 02903-3215
January-June and September-December
8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday
8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday