To preserve the historic character and architectural details of the neighborhood, Bolton Hill was designated a Baltimore City historic district in 1967, followed by being listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, a testament to its national historic importance. Owners of historic homes in Bolton Hill must abide by exterior preservation standards to maintain the character of the neighborhood. When these standards slide, the whole neighborhood suffers bit by bit.
BHCA’s Architectural Review Committee (ARC) must review all changes to the exterior of buildings in Bolton Hill, including windows, doors, lighting, painting, additions, fencing, and landscaping. ARC then makes a recommendation whether to approve the project to the City’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP). CHAP gives the final approval and permit to proceed with exterior work. A building permit is also required for exterior work. Subject to zoning code constraints, interior work related to demolition or alterations involving electrical, plumbing, or heating/cooling on any building in Baltimore City must have building permits as well.
ARC is composed of volunteers who live or have lived in Bolton Hill. They understand how costly it can be to maintain older buildings and can provide guidance and recommendations in addition to their review role for CHAP. Helpful information is also on the CHAP website, including Design Guidelines that must be followed. For questions and guidance on exterior property changes, contact ARC at firstname.lastname@example.org or call CHAP at 410-396-4866.
Since Bolton Hill is an historic district, your renovation or rehabilitation project may qualify for tax credits through the Baltimore City’s Historic Tax Credit Program and/or the Maryland Historic Revitalization Tax Credit Program, which must be approved before work on the house begins.
CHAP Review and Permit Process for Exterior Property Changes
If you are a homeowner or developer planning exterior changes of any kind to your home in Bolton Hill, PLAN AHEAD! Keep in mind that the approval process could take a month. Your plans must be reviewed and approved BEFORE they can take place, so consult ARC early on, as it’s to the benefit of property owners to consult ARC whenever contemplating an exterior change to their property.
Before undertaking any exterior work, property owners must submit a CHAP Authorization to Proceed application to ARC describing the proposed work. Complete the application here. Be sure to include all photos and supporting materials in the application.
Then, email your application to ARC chairperson Susan Van Buren at email@example.com and Bolton Hill’s CHAP liaison Lauren Schiszik at Lauren.Schiszik@baltimorecity.gov at the same time. Sending them concurrently speeds up the review process.
Although not required, it is helpful to attend the ARC meeting when your application will be reviewed. The committee generally meets on the third Wednesday of each month. Minor changes and repairs that comply with the City’s Design Guidelines may be approved by CHAP without a formal presentation to ARC, but that determination is made by ARC.
Provided that ARC recommends and CHAP affirms approval, CHAP will issue a Notice to Proceed directly to the property owner, who may then obtain a City building permit and undertake the planned work. The Notice to Proceed and building permit must be affixed to a visible place on the front of the building during the work.
Permit Process for Interior Property Changes
A property owner in Baltimore City must obtain a building permit before undertaking any substantive interior or exterior changes to a property, which are also subject to City inspection after the work is complete. Permits ensure that work on buildings is performed according to code requirements and are safely habitable. Building permits must be affixed to a visible place on the front of the building during the work.
Expectations of Contractors
Any homeowner knows that contractors are needed from time-to-time to repair a problem, upgrade home systems, or perform major remodeling work. BHCA recommends informing adjacent neighbors of any work expected to be noisy or to cause another inconvenience. In addition to obtaining building permits, it is the homeowner’s responsibility to make sure a contractor abides by basic courtesies to other neighbors such as:
- Noisy work should be performed at reasonable hours of the day.
- Do not park in alleys and block the movement of other vehicles. Double parking on the street should only take place for short durations of time.
- Debris must be removed safely with trash bags or a chute to a dumpster; it cannot be thrown from open windows or rooftops.
- Do not leave debris in front of the property or in the back of the property without being removed in a timely fashion.
Reporting Work without a Permit
It is often neighbors who notice when exterior or interior work on a home appears to be performed without a CHAP or building permit. Permits must be posted in a visible place on the front of the building, but you can also look up City permits here. Sometimes a permit has been issued, but the online permits database has not been updated. BHCA recommends that neighbors first inquire, in a friendly manner, with the owner about whether the work in question has permits. Educating each other, neighbor to neighbor, about the importance of abiding by CHAP and permitting requirements is the best way to ensure that Bolton Hill continues to be known for its beautiful row homes.
If it is not possible to inquire about exterior work with the owner, report work suspected of being performed without a permit using the following this process:
- Submit a 311 request, ideally with photos.
- Email the service request number to the ARC chairperson Susan Van Buren at firstname.lastname@example.org and Bolton Hill’s CHAP liaison Lauren Schiszik at Lauren.Schiszik@baltimorecity.gov, who will contact housing enforcement to send an inspector to the property.
If an owner performs work on a building without first obtaining a Notice to Proceed and a building permit, he or she may be subject to housing code violations and fines.
Zoning Appeals Process
The Baltimore City zoning code allows for certain uses of property in Bolton Hill. When a use is sought outside zoning code requirements, the property owner must seek a zoning variance through a zoning appeal. Information about the zoning code and zoning appeals is available on the Department of Housing and Community Development website.
A common zoning question pertains to adding dwelling units to a property. The Department of Planning advises obtaining a zoning verification letter to confirm the number of dwelling units legally allowed for a specific property. Converting a single-family row home to a multi-family row home or adding dwelling units to an existing multi-family row home above its legally established limit is illegal, unless a zoning variance is obtained.
Converting a single-family row home to a multi-family row home requires a city council ordinance introduced by the district’s councilman. Bolton Hill’s councilman only supports a single- to multi-family row home conversion if BHCA supports it. The property owner must first contact and meet with BHCA’s zoning committee on the proposed conversion by emailing email@example.com. If the committee recommends to the BHCA Board of Directors to support the conversion, then the property owner must present the plans at a BHCA monthly or special meeting for the Board of Directors to vote whether to approve it. Adding dwelling units to an existing multi-family building above its minimum lot area or legally allowable limit requires obtaining a zoning variance through a zoning appeal but not a city council ordinance.
The minimum lot area for most multi-family row homes in Bolton Hill ranges from 550 square feet to 1,100 square feet per dwelling unit depending on a property’s zoning classification in the Baltimore City zoning code. To convert a single-family row home to a multi-family row home requires a minimum lot and floor area, which for most row houses in Bolton Hill is as follows:
- At least 750 square feet of lot area for each unit;
- At least 750 square feet of gross floor area for a 1-bedroom unit; 1,000 square feet for a 2-bedroom unit; 1,250 square feet for a 3-bedroom unit; and
- At least one parking spot on the property for each unit.
These requirements apply regardless of whether the property is owner-occupied or fully or partially rented.
BHCA has a standing policy not to support row house conversions from single-family to multi-family dwellings nor the addition of dwelling units to existing multi-family row homes above their legally allowable limit, except for unusual properties such as large buildings converted to new uses.