Downtown Guidelines

Downtown Design (DD) Overlay District

Properties within the Downtown Design (DD) Overlay District are subject to the Downtown Design Guidelines. See map below.

A Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) is required for most improvements that modify the exterior appearance of a site. Review by the Downtown Design Committee (DDC) is required for COA applications that cannot be administratively approved.

Click here to find out more information about the Downtown Design Committee.

Downtown Design Committee (DDC) 2024 Meeting Schedule and Deadlines

Consult the Downtown Design Manual to review the Downtown Guidelines.

Downtown Design District Approved Paint Colors

Additional development standards can be found in the Zoning Ordinance.

Download and submit a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) Application to have a proposed project reviewed for compliance with the guidelines.

Electronic/digital submission of applications and other materials is encouraged whenever feasible. Consult the Staff Directory or the specific subject page for staff contact information.

Mailed items can be sent to:


Credit card payments can now be accepted over the phone. Please call the Planning Department at 757-393-8836 for more information. Please note that a signed credit card authorization form is required to be submitted before a credit card payment can be processed.

Downtown Design Overlay District Map. Click on map for full size PDF.

Downtown Design Overlay District map
High Street buildings

National Park Service Preservation Briefs

Preservation Briefs provide information on preserving, rehabilitating, and restoring historic buildings. These National Park Service Publications help historic building owners recognize and resolve common problems prior to work. The briefs are especially useful to Historic Preservation Tax Incentives Program applicants because they recommend methods and approaches for rehabilitating historic buildings that are consistent with their historic character.

Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits

The preservation of historic buildings benefits communities and connects us to our heritage, enriching the quality of our lives in many tangible and intangible ways. Their preservation also provides demonstrable economic benefits.

Through the federal and state rehabilitation tax credit programs, property owners are given substantial incentives for private investment in preservation, resulting in enormous advantages to the public.

Both the federal and state tax credit programs are administered in Virginia through the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR).

State tax credits are available for owner-occupied, as well as income-producing buildings. If your property is income-producing, you may also be able to take advantage of federal tax credits. Additional information and assistance with tax-credit projects may be requested from DHR’s Richmond office. Contact Chris Novelli at (804) 482-6097.

What buildings qualify for the tax credit program?

The credits described above are available only for Certified Historic Structures, which are defined as follows:

Under the Federal program, a certified historic structure is one that is either:

  • Individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places, or
  • Certified as contributing to a district that is so listed.

Under the State program, a certified historic structure is one that is:

  • Individually listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register, or
  • Certified as eligible for listing, or
  • Certified as a contributing structure in a district that is so listed.

Comparison of Federal and State Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits

Rehabilitation Tax Credits Frequently Asked Questions

How can I get additional information?

A helpful resource is the DHR Handbook and Resource Guide for Owners for Virginia’s Historic Houses. The goal for this handbook is to help owners of Virginia's historic  homes begin to understand their houses and to learn where to find the answers to protect, preserve, and maintain them. This basic compilation of resources and explanations should help homeowners to understand, plan, investigate, evaluate, and carry out the most sympathetic and cost effective repairs to their historic homes. It is meant to be a simple and readable technical manual, touching on recurring themes and questions that are repeatedly directed to the staff at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
Another helpful resource is the DHR Historic Trades & Consultants Directory.

Please Note: DHR provides the Trades & Consultants Directory as a free service to property owners, local governments, and state and federal sponsors in Virginia seeking the assistance of people and professional firms with expertise in historic preservation. The directory is not an endorsement by DHR or the City of Portsmouth or a demonstration of professional competence. As a government agency, DHR  and the City of Portsmouth cannot recommend the services of an individual consultant and does not accept responsibility for the performance of any consultant. The directory should not be construed as an “approved” list. Determining the suitability of the providers is the responsibility of the property owners. It is also the responsibility of the property owner to obtain all appropriate permits and to ascertain that contractors have the appropriate licenses. For more information, visit the DHR website.

Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits Information Session

On January 12, 2022, Jessica Ugarte, Tax Credit Supervisor with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, provided an overview on the federal and state historic rehabilitation tax credit programs. Watch the recording of the meeting below.

Click here to download a copy of the presentation slides.