What are neighborhood conservation overlay districts?

A neighborhood conservation overlay district (NCOD) is a zoning tool used to preserve, revitalize, protect, and enhance significant older areas within a community beyond what is specified in the standard code. The conservation overlay regulations are applied in addition to standard zoning regulations and will usually take precedence. NCOD regulations will differ from neighborhood to neighborhood depending on the area’s character and needs.

NCODs versus Historic Districts

Both a NCOD and a historic district are overlay districts; however, a NCOD will typically regulate fewer features and will focus more on significant character defining features, such as lot size, building height, setbacks, streetscapes, and tree protection. Unlike historic districts, NCODs rarely consider specific elements, such as windows, buildings materials, colors, and decorative details. In addition, most NCODs do not include demolition delays, a tool utilized in historic districts.

Criteria needed for an NCOD:

Check with your local planning department to receive exact criteria needed to form a Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District.

Chapel Hill has the following requirements:

Area must include one block face (all lots on one side of a block, at a minimum)
Area must have been developed at least 25 years before applying for an NCO
75% of the land in proposed area must be presently improved

Area must create a consistent setting, character, or association by possessing at least one of the following:

Scale, size, type of construction, or distinctive building material
Lot layouts, setbacks, street layouts, alleys or sidewalks
Special natural or streetscape characteristics (i.e. creek beds, parks, gardens, street landscaping)
Land use patterns, including mixed or unique uses or activities
Abuts or links designated historic landmarks and/or districts
Area must be mostly residential in nature and character

Steps to forming an NCOD

Check with your local planning department to determine the specific process required to form a Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District. The follow are steps detailed by the city of Winston-Salem.

Pre-application process (to determine eligibility)

Submit to planning staff


  • boundary of proposed district (identify each property within the district)
    written endorsement by the Neighborhood Association Executive Committee & a copy of the current by-laws
    original petition (signature of 55% of property owners in district)

If this is approved – following steps may continue:


Description of natural and built features of area/neighborhood (2 maps supplied by planning staff – national register district neighborhoods may be included)

Planning staff to review to make sure properly completed

Conservation Standards list

Voluntary Guidelines list (if desired by area/petitioners)

Final Submission, Notification, and Adoption (Neighborhood Association is to monitor/maintain district – city staff is involved for building permit/rezoning/subdivision of land)