Friday, July 17, 2009

San Francisco Department of Building Inspection Presentation: What is a Historic Building?

Your BOMA Advocacy Team attended a presentation yesterday by the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (DBI) on the designation of historic buildings. The program featured a panel that included:
The presentation was informative and addressed historic designation issues germane to the commercial real estate industry. Here are the highlights (you can download the entire presentation, here):

What is a historic building?
  • Consideration is broad for a building to be considered historic. For example, a interior of a building can be designated as historic (it has to be publicly accessible) while the remainder of the building may not.
  • Locally, a structure can be designated as historic if it qualifies under Articles 10 and 11 of the San Francisco Planning Code.
What are the levels of designation?
  • At the Federal level, designation is determined by the National Register of Historic Places. The process for designation is initiated by the property owner or a member of the public (requires owners consent). A benefit of designation is that the projects may be eligible for tax credits.
  • In California, designation is determined by the California Register of Historic Resources. The process is initiated by the property owner or a member of the public (again, requires owner consent). Projects at the state level may be eligible for a 20% cost reduction via a rehabilitation tax credit.
  • In San Francisco, Articles 10 and 11 under the City Planning Code determine the historical status of a structure. This process can be initiated by the property owner, a member of the public, the Historic Preservation Commission, Arts Commission, Planning Commission, or the Board of Supervisors.
What are the criteria for local designation (only one of the three criterion would need to be met)?
  • Events - those events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history.
  • Persons - structures that are associated with the lives of persons significant in the City's past.
  • Architecture - buildings that embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction; or that represent the work of a master; or that possess high artistic values; or, that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction.
Why would I want to designate my building as historic?
  • Federal tax credits (e.g., a 20% cost reduction is available from the U.S. Department of the Interior) are available for certified rehabilitation projects.
  • You can receive a 40% reduction in property tax through a Mills Act contract.
  • Identified resources can utilize the California Historical Building Code (CHBC) as an alternative building code. Permission from DBI is required before you can use the CHBC.
  • Certain loans are available for the seismic retrofit of Unreinforced Masonry Buildings (UMBs), and HUD/Mayors Office of Housing grants are available to non-profit housing sponsors and small business owners for the rehabilitation of historic properties.
  • Energy code compliance is not required for historic buildings.
  • The identification of a resource can affect the decision-making in the granting of a variance (e.g. off-street parking) or a conditional use authorization (e.g. a bed and breakfast within a landmark structure).
  • Designating and rehabilitating a resource is good for the environment (the most environmentally friendly building is an existing building).
If you have any questions about designation, please contact the Department of Building Inspection and they will guide you through the process.

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