The Wake County Board of Commissioners took the first formal step toward establishing a historic preservation program when a countywide survey of historic architecture was authorized in 1988. In May 1992, the Wake County Board of Commissioners adopted a historic preservation ordinance, which established the Wake County Historic Preservation Commission. To create a countywide commission, which could best foster a comprehensive and cooperative approach to protecting historic resources throughout the county, each municipality was then requested to adopt the ordinance through an interlocal agreement with the county. As a result, the Historic Preservation Commission has jurisdiction in Apex, Cary, Fuquay-Varina, Garner, Holly Springs, Knightdale, Morrisville, Raleigh's extraterritorial jurisdiction (the Raleigh Historic Districts Commission presides over properties within the Raleigh corporate limits), Rolesville, Wendell, Zebulon and the unincorporated areas of the county. (Wake Forest chose to continue operating its own Historic Preservation Commission.) The Wake County Historic Preservation Commission held its first meeting in January 1993. The historic preservation program and commission are funded by Wake County government and currently staffed by Capital Area Preservation, Inc., a nonprofit preservation organization.
As outlined in the historic preservation ordinance, the primary purpose of the Wake County Historic Preservation Commission is to safeguard the heritage of the county, including its municipalities, by preserving districts and landmarks that embody important elements of its culture, history, architectural history or prehistory; and to promote the use and conservation of such districts and landmarks for the education, pleasure and enrichment of the residents of the county and state. The goals of the county's historic preservation program are to fulfill this charge and to integrate preservation concepts in the county's and the participating municipal planning programs.
The commission's primary responsibilities are to:
- Initiate and recommend properties for designation as historic landmarks
- Review Certificates of Appropriateness
- Keep the historic architecture survey up to date and maintain the historic resources database
- Initiate National Register listing and comment on National Register nominations
- Develop a historic preservation plan and ensure that historic resources are recognized in county and municipal plans
- Provide information to the public about the county's preservation program and historic resources.