Frequently Asked Questions About Local Historic District Designation
In an effort to help one understand the historic district designation process St. Petersburg Preservation offers the following answers to several frequently asked questions.
What is the difference between Local Historic Register designation and National Register designation?
A National Register designation is honorary in that it does not offer design or demolition review for either properties within historic districts or for individually designated properties. Local landmark or district designation offers protection against and insensitive alterations or demolition through a certificate of appropriateness (COA) review process. This means significant exterior property alterations and requests for demolition are subject to review and approval.
What is the process for designating a local historic district in St. Petersburg?
First, an application must be submitted to the city for consideration by the City Council. This is usually done by a neighborhood association or group of interested citizens after an extensive education campaign directed towards property owners in the potential district. In order for an application to be submitted, a majority of property owners within the proposed district must give their consent via a written ballot.
Once an application is submitted, a public hearing process begins. Individual notices are mailed to all property owners on at least two occasions, and a minimum of two public hearings will be held. Additionally there is a first and second ordinance reading at city council, which must occur on separate dates.
After that, City Council votes on whether or not the area should be designated as a local historic district. In making its decision, Council will weigh many factors, including historic significance, architectural integrity, and the degree of property owner support in the district.
What are the current voting requirements?
The preservation ordinance requires that 50% + 1 of all property owners in a proposed district vote “yes” to the submission of an historic district application. Owners who fail to return the city issued ballot are counted as a “no” vote.
The important thing to note here is that the vote itself does not grant local historic district status. It simply allows an application to be filed with the city. This then triggers a series of public hearings and ultimately a vote by City Council on whether or not to grant historic district designation.
So a favorable vote by property owners doesn't mean my neighborhood automatically becomes a historic district?
Correct. City Council makes the final decision after public hearings. A factor in their decision will be the degree of property owner support.
How many local historic districts does the city currently have?
Four, as of August, 2017. Historic Roser Park was designated in 1987 and has 68 properties in the district. Granada Terrace was designated in 1988 and has 69 properties. Lang’s Bungalow Court was designated in 2014 and has 13 properties in the district. The 700 block of 18th Avenue NE was designated in 2016 and has 10 properties.
Why are the existing historic districts so small? Can a larger neighborhood become a historic district?
Larger neighborhoods may become a historic district but the city's voting process discourages this from happening. This is a result of the city decision to count non-responding property owners as "no" votes when determining if a majority of owners support submittal of a historic district application. Remember, a historic district application cannot be submitted unless a majority of all property owners within the proposed district vote yes on the city issued ballot.
Unfortunately, experience has shown that many homeowners, particularly absentee owners, do not return their ballot. Thus, the larger the number of properties and absentee owners the more difficult it is to ensure a sufficient number of ballots are returned. For example, the Old Northeast neighborhood had a 28% absentee owner ratio in 2006 when the neighborhood attempted to submit a local historic district application.
So, if my neighborhood were designated as a local historic district, how would I be affected?
The characteristics that probably drew you to the area in the first place would be protected. Notably, you will not be told what color you can paint your house, what type of landscaping you can install or what can be done inside your house. You can still build a vinyl fence, add an addition or garage and install new windows. You will still be able to obtain homeowners insurance and you may still lease or rent your property.
If you wanted to demolish your home or significantly alter the exterior characteristics of your home you would go through a “certificate of appropriateness” (COA) process for those requested changes.
Are these requirements only in place if you live in a historic home? What if you live in a historic district but live in a house built, say, in the ‘80s?
All homes within a proposed district are subject to the COA process, regardless of their age. However, homes that are considered “non-contributing” (i.e. are not historic or architecturally significant) are not held to the same standards as those that are considered “contributing” to the district.
In a historic district, how are requests for making alterations to a home handled?
Most requests for alterations (applied through the certificate of appropriateness process) are handled by in-house staff and there is a 97% approval rating of these requests. Demolition requests and large-scale alterations are heard by the Community Planning and Preservation Commission. Click here for more information.
The certificate of appropriateness process is similar to the zoning requirements that we are already accustomed to, for example, like the extensive city guidelines on fence requirements. They goal of the review process is to prevent the sort of changes that over time can erode neighborhood character.
The city has created a very helpful FAQ detailing how the certificate of appropriateness process works. You can access it here.
Why would a neighborhood want to become a local historic district anyway?
Because it helps preserve the character of an historic neighborhood, which is often the very thing that makes that neighborhood desirable. Numerous studies have shown that historic districts hold their value better than comparable non-designated neighborhoods. And there are a host of tax benefits that properties in local historic districts can take advantage of.
How do other cities handle this? What are the “accepted best practices?”
Most cities do not require a neighborhood vote to start the application process, opting instead for a lengthy review process of potential local historic districts by an expert panel comprised of architects, historians, local business leaders, and city officials. For example, in Massachusetts (a state that knows a thing or two about history) any neighborhood can apply for local historic designation, triggering an 18-month review by a qualified panel of experts.
What if I want to learn more about these issues?
Feel free to contact us at email@example.com, and we would be glad to offer more details by email or in a conversation. Or you can contact the city's historic preservation office at 893-7872.
The city has a number of documents ranging from application forms to economic benefit studies to an inventory of local historic signs that you can access by clicking here. In 2017, the city adopted design guidelines for historic properties and published a design guidelines booklet. Click here to see it!