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Historic Designation: What it Means to Homeowners

October 19, 2011 Articles Tax

The protection of historic buildings and sites occurs primarily at the local level. Most local governments have enacted a historic preservation ordinance tailored to meet the needs of the particular community. The ordinance will often establish a historic preservation program aimed at protecting buildings and sites deemed worthy of preservation. When evaluating the historical significance of a building or site located in Florida, local governments may consider whether the building or site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (the “National Register”) or the Florida Master Site File (the “Site File”). Both lists are made available to the public and may be used as a guideline for local historic designation status.

The National Register is a list of U.S. properties determined to be historically significant by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Listing on the National Register is more of an honorary listing. There are generally no regulations attached to the designation that protect the site from demolition or inappropriate modification. A National Register designation may help if you plan to apply for a restoration grant, as some restoration grants require sites to be listed on the National Register. All National Register nominations for sites located in Florida go through the Florida Division of Historical Resources.

The Site File is the State of Florida’s official inventory of historical cultural resources. The Florida Division of Historical Resources maintains the Site File. Categories of resources recorded at the Site File include archeological sites, historical structures, historical cemeteries, historical bridges, and historic districts. The resources included on the list are not evaluated for their historical significance. Instead, the list is an active inventory of archeological sites, structures, cemeteries, bridges, and districts that are over 50 years old, without regard to their historical significance. Most properties listed on the Site File are not listed on the National Register because many Site File properties do not meet the National Register’s criteria for historical significance. The Site File is available to assist citizens, government agencies, and historic preservation professionals in performing searches and obtaining information.

The National Register and Site File are valuable resources to local governments when evaluating the historical significance of a building or site. Because local historic preservation ordinances and regulations vary by city and county, it is important to contact the planning division in the city or county where the property is located to determine whether the property is locally designated. If the property is locally designated, it is important to know what special regulations apply to the property.

For properties located within the City of Sarasota (the “City”), the City has established a historic preservation ordinance and program referred to in this article as the “Historic Preservation Plan.” As outlined in the Historic Preservation Plan, the goal is to identify, document, protect, preserve, and enhance all cultural, historic, architectural, and archeological resources of the City. The City utilizes the National Register, Site File, and other resources when evaluating the significance of a site.

The City’s Historic Preservation Plan includes the adoption of zoning regulations for historic buildings and sites. The regulations set forth the process and requirements for proposing a historic designation, approving a historic designation, and the restrictions that apply to a building or site once it has been historically designated. Historic designation applications must be submitted by a homeowner or the City’s historic preservation board. If the application is submitted by the City’s historic preservation board, the owner of the building or site may prevent the designation by submitting a formal statement of objection. Generally, buildings and sites considered for historic designation are over 50 years old and would be included on the Site File.

Historically designated buildings may be eligible for building code or tax exemptions. Once a building or site is historically designated by the City, applications for building permits to modify the exterior of the building or site and applications to demolish the building or site will be referred to the historic preservation board for review. After the review and notice process set forth in the regulations, the historic preservation board will grant, grant with conditions, or deny the certificate of appropriateness for a building or demolition permit.

Even if a building or site is not locally designated by the City, the City’s regulations set forth certain restrictions for properties listed on the National Register or the Site File. If included on either list, the City’s neighborhood and development services department must also review and approve an application for a building or demolition permit. Prior to approving the application for a demolition permit, the department may require that the applicant undertake all reasonable measures to save the resource on the site or relocate the building. Thus, for property located within the City, in addition to determining whether the property has been locally designated by the City, it is also important to determine whether the property is listed on the National Register or the Site File.

While this article focuses on the Historic Preservation Plan implemented by the City of Sarasota, similar historic preservation programs have been implemented in other cities and counties in Florida. Whether you are considering proposing historic designation for property you own or are concerned that your property may be historically designated, you should contact the planning division in the city or county where the property is located. You will want to review the historic preservation program implemented by the city or county, including the local historic preservation ordinance and any regulations that apply to your property.

If you have questions regarding the historic designation of your property, contact a local real estate attorney. Christa Folkers can be reached at  941-552-5554 or