What to Know About Buying a Home in One of Savannah’s Historic Districts

Founded in 1733, Savannah, Georgia was established as America’s 13th and final colony. Our beautiful Savannah’s original claim to fame is that we are America’s first planned city. Today, many of Savannah’s historical structures, parks, and landmarks that laid the foundation for our city are still prominent throughout the area. As Savannah has grown to many more neighborhoods over the last three centuries, so has its history. 

The charming historical elements of our city are known to attract visitors who eventually move here. Many relocatees cite being captivated by the diverse architecture and elegantly crafted homes, never wanting to leave. And we don’t blame them. As locals we are proud of our heritage and want to celebrate it. Local government entities and organizations have worked tirelessly to preserve the original aspects of Savannah’s most historical areas for this reason. 

The protected districts of Savannah are some of the area’s most desirable neighborhoods to live within. Those looking to move to one of these beloved districts should know that they come with the privilege and responsibility of maintaining our city’s deeply embedded roots in American history. Local preservation ordinances have been put in place to ensure the cultural fabric and structural integrity of these districts remain. Furthermore, maintaining historic homes increases property values and contributes to the overall aesthetic and appeal of the neighborhoods. Read on if you’re in the market for a historic home in Savannah to learn about zoning and the ordinances.

Where are Savannah’s Designated Historic Districts?

Savannah currently has four designated historic districts and four conservation districts. According to the Chatham County – Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commision (MPC), the historic districts include the following neighborhoods:

  • Historic District
  • Victorian District
  • Streetcar District (a.k.a – Starland District)
  • Culver-Brownlee District 

The conservation district ordinance exists to protect the character of the below older neighborhoods that do not fall under the historic district overlays. These include:

  • Carver Flatman District
  • Ardsley Park/Chatham Crescent District
  • Parkside District
  • Ardmore District

The National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) expands on these lists with even more historic neighborhoods in Savannah, but you’ll find that the organization does not impact historic homeowners with ordinances. Rather, it exists to recognize historic sites on a national level and to provide historic preservation tools and resources. To see if your potential or existing home falls in one of these neighborhoods, visit the NRHP website here.

Who Instituted the Ordinances & Oversees Compliance?

The historic areas of Savannah are zoned by the Historic Preservation Department of the MPC. The department is made up of boards that help make decisions about improvements, demolitions, or renovations performed in the historical areas of Savannah.  

When it comes to getting board approval for these projects, homeowners in the above-listed districts need approval from a specific board depending on which district they live in. The Historic District Board Review is responsible for supporting the downtown Historic District. The Historic Preservation Commision board is responsible for helping with decisions regarding all of the  remaining districts: Victorian District, Streetcar District, Culver-Brownlee District, Carver Flatman District, Ardsley Park/Chatham Crescent District, Parkside District, and Ardmore District.

Understanding Historic Home Ordinances

Before beginning any work on a home in a designted historic or conservation district, homeowners must first make sure that the planned work is in full compliance with its district’s requirements. Those that do not comply with the ordinance of the district will be fined. The best way to determine compliance is to review the MPC’s website, which lists each district’s guidelines per the City of Savannah.

Some types of work require a Certificate of Appropriateness to be submitted to the MPC for approval before any work can begin, and other more minor kinds of work do not. For example, in the Historic District, changes to a home’s roof, add-ons, demolitions, relocations of structures, or painting the exterior of the house requires not only a Certificate of Appropriateness to be submitted, but either a meeting with the Executive Director of the MPC, a public meeting with the Historic District Board Review, or both. Minor changes like removing vegetation and repairs that don’t modify the home’s material, placement or design do not require a Certificate of Appropriateness submission. However, for these minor repairs, the MPC does encourage homeowners to meet with the Executive Director of the MPC to be sure the desired changes are, in fact, compliant. 

To learn more about the ordinance, requirements, and process for the Historic District, refer to the City of Savannah’s Code of Ordinances. For a breakdown of all of the remaining districts’ (Victorian District, Ardmore District, Parkside, etc.) ordinance parameters, visit the City of Savannah’s page here.

Guidance, Resources, and Support for Preserving a Savannah’s Homes History

For those who want guidance with the ordinances, reaching out to the Executive Director of the MPC or seeking help from the Savannah Historical Foundation are both great options. Additionally, historic homeowners that make improvements to the residence, may be eligible for Georgia’s state income tax credit program for rehabilitated historic property. The credit equals 25% of rehabilitation costs up to $100,000.

Owning a historic home in Savannah is a coveted lifestyle for many and offers a unique window and connectedness to Savannah’s origins. Many of these historic neighborhoods are also situated in idyllic, walkable locations with nearby green spaces, restaurants, and plenty of things to do. Learn more about Savannah’s neighborhoods by visiting our page here.