In an effort to help one understand the historic district designation process Preserve the 'Burg offers the following answers to frequently asked questions.
Why would a neighborhood want to become a local historic district?
Neighborhood character or feel is an important factor attracting people to neighborhoods. Local designation provides a tool to help retain neighborhood character, keeping the neighborhood special and a desirable place to live. Studies have shown that people are more willing to invest in locally designated neighborhoods because of the greater degree of certainty that designated neighborhoods will retain their special character.
District designation contributes to retaining neighborhood character by discouraging demolition of historic buildings and encouraging their reuse and sensitive renovation with tax incentives and zoning code flexibility. It also helps ensure that new construction is compatible with the existing neighborhood. Numerous studies have shown a variety of benefits for locally designated historic districts including property values in locally designated neighborhoods increasing more or holding their property value better than in comparable non-designated neighborhoods.
Resources on the Benefits of Historic Districts:
Is there a difference between Local Historic Register designation and National Register designation?
Yes, local designation helps to protect neighborhood character with city review of proposed demolition, new construction or significant exterior alteration of buildings within a local district. The goal of the review process is to discourage demolition of historic buildings and to encourage exterior building alterations or new construction to be consistent with the neighborhood's character.
For residential neighborhoods, a National Register district designation is primarily honorary in that such designation does not require design or demolition review. National Register designation, however, offers a significant incentive to owners of "income producing" properties to renovate and reuse historic buildings in the form of a Federal tax credit for property improvements undertaken in accord with preservation guidelines.
Where can historic districts be found?
There are thousands of historic districts located in big cities and small towns and within every state in the country. Thus, there is extensive experience with how districts work and how property owners seeking to change their property within a district are reviewed. That being said, as each local district is established by local ordinance, there is some variation in how districts are approved and, once approved, how demolition, alteration or new construction is reviewed.
In St. Petersburg, as of March, 2020, there were eight local historic districts and five National Register historic districts. Historic Roser Park was the city's first local district, designated in 1987. This was followed in 1988 with the designation of Granada Terrace, a neighborhood within the historic Old Northeast. In 2014, Lang’s Bungalow Court was approved as a local district. More recently, the 700 block of 18th Ave. NE, Historic Kenwood Seminole Park, Northwest Historic Kenwood, the 200 block of 10th Ave. NE and Welch’s Mediterranean Row in the 100 block of 19th Ave. NE have been designated.
The city's five National Register districts include Roser Park, Northshore (the Historic Old Northeast), Historic Kenwood, Round Lake (Historic Uptown) and Downtown.
Who can apply for local historic district designation in St. Petersburg?
An application can be submitted by an individual, a neighborhood association or other organization or by a group of property owners.
An alternative is for city council to apply to designate a neighborhood as a local historic district. If council initiates the application, no property owner vote is required as part of the application process. A majority vote of council is required to initiate an application by the city.
What must be included in an application for district designation?
There are several steps to the application process including a property owner vote (unless it's a city initiated application), a comprehensive application describing the significance of the proposed district and an application fee.
The city's application form requires information justifying the proposed district boundaries, history of the development of the neighborhood, photographs of the buildings within the proposed district and information about the building types and styles represented in the neighborhood. The application fee is $200 per application plus $10 per parcel up to a total of $1000. Preserve the 'Burg has a program to help pay for application fees.
It is recommended that an extensive education campaign be undertaken directed towards property owners in the potential district to help assure all property owners understand what a district means and how it will work. As part of the application process, city preservation staff will conduct a neighborhood meeting to answer questions neighborhood residents may have regarding what a district means.
How does the property owner balloting process work?
The city's balloting process is unusual (it counts an owner who doesn't vote as a "no" vote) and a bit complicated. The preservation ordinance requires that 50% + 1 of all tax parcels in a proposed district vote “yes” before a historic district application is considered complete (except for city initiated applications).
Tax parcels are identified by the Pinellas County Property Appraiser. Even if more than one owner is listed for the tax parcel the parcel still only receives one vote. If the parcel has multiple owners and at least one of the owners votes yes and the remaining owners of the parcel don't return a ballot then the parcel is counted as a yes vote. If at least one of the parcel owners votes no, even if the other parcel owners vote yes, the parcel is counted as a no vote. If no ballot is returned by the parcel owner(s) then the parcel is counted as a no vote. Tax parcels owned by the city are not counted.
Don't forget, the vote itself does not grant local historic district status. It simply allows an application to be filed with the city. If a sufficient number of yes votes are returned then a series of public hearings on the application will occur and ultimately City Council votes on whether or not to grant historic district designation.
How is an application reviewed after submittal?
Once a complete application is submitted, a public hearing process begins. The applicant is responsible for mailing Individual notices to all property owners within and surrounding the proposed district on at least two occasions and a minimum of two public hearings will be held. Typically it will take two to three months after submittal of a complete application for a final decision (city council vote) to be made on the application.
A staff report and recommendation will be prepared and a public hearing will be held before the city's preservation commission. They will make a recommendation concerning the merits of the application to city council. Another public hearing before city council will be held following the preservation commission determination. The council decision will be the final action on the application.
A majority vote of city council is required to approve the application unless the preservation commission recommended denial in which case a super majority council vote will be required to approve the district application. In making its decision, council will weigh many factors, including historic significance, architectural integrity, and the degree of property owner support in the district. The city's preservation ordinance contains specific criteria upon which the application will be judged.
How am I affected if my home is in a local historic district and I want to change my home?
You will not be told what color you can paint your house or what can be done inside your house. You can change the windows in your home although if you have historic wood frame windows often times the most economical choice is to restore rather than to replace those windows.
If you want to demolish your home or significantly alter the exterior characteristics of your home or build a new structure your plans go through a review called a “certificate of appropriateness” (COA). Normal maintenance is exempt from COA review. The goal of the COA review is to maintain neighborhood character by discouraging and/or preventing the sort of changes that over time can erode what makes a neighborhood special.
Most requests for COA review are decided by city staff working with the property owner and many can be decided in one day. A COA for demolition or for major alterations or new building construction will be reviewed by the city's preservation commission and include a public hearing. In 2017, only 13% of the COA requests were subject to preservation commission and public hearing review.
To assist the property owner in understanding the review requirements for exterior home changes, the city has adopted design guidelines. They are contained in a booklet, entitled Design Guidelines for Historic Properties. Additionally, the city's COA review criteria are specified in the city's preservation ordinance and the city considers the guidelines of the National Register in their COA review.
If my home is within a local district but is not a historic building (say it was built in the 1980's) are changes I would want to make to the home still subject to review?
Yes, all buildings within a district are subject to COA review but not to the same extent. At the time of approval, the structures within a local district will be identified as either contributing (historic) or non-contributing (non-historic). Generally, a building must be at least 50 years old and retain its historic features and feel to be considered as a contributing resource. The review of proposed significant exterior changes or demolition of a non-contributing structure will be focused on the potential impact to the neighborhood rather than on the individual building.
What if I want to learn more about these issues?
Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can contact the city's historic preservation office at 893-7872.
The city has a variety of resources accessible from their Historic Preservation web page ranging from maps and listing of historic resources to information about preservation incentives to application forms that you can access by clicking here.