Historic landmark designation performs a vital role in ensuring the protection and preservation of historically significant buildings, landscapes and sites.
While you may have heard the term landmark designation, you may not know that the process of applying for and receiving one is complicated and can happen at a number of different levels. The following information, from Preserve the ‘Burg (https://preservetheburg.org/), details the key types of historic landmark designations, the application process and the benefits each provides.
Federal historic landmark designation falls to one of two designation organizations: the National Register of Historic Places (also known as the NR or National Register), and the National Historic Landmarks Program (NHL Program). While the two are similar, and both are operated by the National Parks Service, they carry slightly different goals. The NHL program aims to preserve properties and landmarks that are of specific significance to American history and culture, while the National Register includes properties and places of historic, archaeological, and architectural importance. In other words, the NHL program is more appropriate for public places tied to historic figures, events or periods of time, while the National Register can be used for buildings of architectural, artistic, or archaeological significance.
Landmark designation on the National Register is a far more common process than NHL designation. The National Register sets the following criteria for landmark designation:
“The quality of significance in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture is present in districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association, and:
- that are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or
- that are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or
- 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; or
- that have yielded or may be likely to yield, information important in history or prehistory.”
National Register designation begins by applying at the state level for consideration. Once criteria are met, the State Historic Preservation Office then notifies any and all property owners impacted by the designation and opens the floor for public comment. Next, both the State and National boards will review the application in detail, a process that takes typically a minimum of 90 days. Finally, reviewed nominations are submitted by the state to the National Park Service in Washington, D.C. for final review and listing by the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service makes a listing decision within 45 days.
National Register designation does not guarantee that the public will have access to a historic place. It is also important to note that National Register designation does not limit what an owner can do with a property or building—if it is privately owned and has not received any federal grants or tax breaks, a property may still be demolished or renovated as the owner sees fit unless it also has received specific designation and zoning at the local level.
In addition to assisting with National Register designation, the state of Florida’s Division of Historical Resources has a number of preservation programs and the authority to designate landmarks at the state level.
The primary landmark designation offered by the state is inclusion in the Historical Markers program, which provides official signage to historic sites and lists them in Florida’s database of historic places. You have probably seen these signs around town—metal plaques that offer a short explanation of a site’s historic significance. To receive this designation, a number of documents are required, including a written explanation of the historic significance of the site, a map of the proposed marker location, and photos of the property. This type of landmark designation is primarily for tourism purposes and does not offer any type of incentive or protection to a property.
The Division of Historical Resources does, however, administer a number of incentives for historic preservation, including the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit and the Property Tax Exemption. While these exemptions are granted at the Federal level, the state is responsible for reviewing and approving applications. While national landmark designation is not explicitly required for these incentives, it certainly helps the application process go more smoothly.
The St. Petersburg Register of Historic Places is our city’s local designation program. Run by City staff, eligibility criteria very closely mirror the National Register’s criteria. “Local landmark designation,” as it is commonly known, is at the core of Preserve the ‘Burg’s mission.
The process for local designation begins with an application through The City of St. Petersburg. This application includes criteria for review, a survey of any modifications that have been made to the property over the years, and a rigorous approval process. There is a wide range of benefits for receiving local landmark designation:
- Property owners become eligible for the Rehabilitation Ad Valorem Tax Exemption program. This program currently exempts up to 12.1 mils of certain property taxes for a ten-year period following qualifying improvements.
- Buildings in the St. Petersburg Register may be eligible for adaptive reuse for suitable land-use types that would otherwise be prohibited. Essentially, zoning requirements are very different for appropriately designated historic properties compared to new construction.
- Certain Florida Building Code Exemptions are allowed for buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places or the St. Petersburg Register of Historic Places. Basically, renovations do not have to meet certain aspects of building code if they would negatively impact the building’s historic value.
Unlike listing in the National Register, local landmark designation provides protection from demolition and alterations that are not done in the interest of preserving historic value. Historic preservation staff conducts reviews of proposed changes to locally designated properties through the Certificates of Appropriateness process.
This is a specific type of local designation that is not filed by the property owner, but by a third-party, such as a neighborhood association, a preservation organization like Preserve the ‘Burg, or even the city itself. This type of designation follows a similar application process to local designation but is typically placed under particular scrutiny because of the potential resistance from the property owner.
Unlike owner-initiated applications, third-party designation requires additional meetings between the applicant, property owner, and City Council member in the district where the property is located and added notice requirements. Once these criteria are met, third-party designations require a supermajority for City Council approval—meaning all efforts need to be taken to ensure there’s overwhelming support for designation. Historic landmark designation offers be benefits to property owners, historians and scholars, and the community as a whole.
About Preserve the Burg
Founded more than 40 years ago, Preserve the ‘Burg has grown into the city’s authority on cultural and historic landscapes of importance. According to their website, “We help guide and shape conversations about what our community values enough to preserve, and advocate with city officials for appropriate guidelines on the management of historic properties, neighborhoods, and resources.” They were involved in the preservation of the Vinoy Hotel and the historic Roser Park neighborhood. In recent years, they played a role in saving Lang’s Bungalow Court, the Crislip Arcade on the 600 block of Central Avenue, the Jennie Hall Pool, and the Virginia Burnside house. For more information about this non-profit – how to join, volunteer or donate, visit their website at: https://preservetheburg.org/about-us
Historic Sites and Architecture of St. Petersburg, Florida, by Ken Breslauer
St. Petersburg: The Sunshine City (FL) (Images of America), by R. Wayne Ayers
Preserving Petersburg: History, Memory, Nostalgia, by Helena Goscilo & Stephen M. Norris
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