Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make changes to my property?

Yes! The Board encourages historically appropriate rehabilitation. Additions are one of the main purposes of the historic tax exemption program. A Certificate of Appropriateness is required for significant exterior rehabilitation other than general maintenance, which is defined as maintenance that does not change the exterior appearance, design or materials, and which does not require a permit. A Certificate of Appropriateness Matrix has been developed that indicates whether certain improvements require “no review”, “staff review only” or “Board” review.

Does the Historic Preservation Board tell me what color to paint my house?

No. Typically, paint is viewed as a temporary application that does not damage original material, and therefore is not regulated. However, City Staff would be happy to provide guidance to any homeowner who requested assistance in choosing an historically appropriate color for their structure.

Are there tax incentives available to property owners in local historic districts?

Yes! The granting of tax exemptions to owners who make improvements to historic properties was authorized under Florida law in 1992.Palm BeachCountysubsequently adopted an ordinance in 1995 making provisions for tax exemptions under state law. The City of West Palm Beach has entered into an interlocal agreement with Palm Beach County to allow for these tax breaks. The program provides for an exemption from tax increases on the improvements to historic properties for City and County Ad Valorem taxes for up to a ten (10) year period. The exemptions for historic properties are intended for the physical improvements necessary to restore or rehabilitate the historic structure, which may also include additions or alterations. It is important to note that you must apply for this exemption prior to starting any work on the property.

Is work on the interior of a building reviewed by the Historic Preservation Board?

No. The Board only reviews work to the exterior of the structure. If the proposed work on the interior will affect the exterior, such as rearranging the floor plan in a manner that will result in the closing of a window opening or relocating an exterior door, you will need to show the Board the plans in order to explain why the changes are being made to the exterior.

Will local historic designation hurt my property values?

No. A number of states across the country, includingFlorida,Michigan,Texas,Georgia, Wisconsin and Virginia have conducted studies comparing property values in a designated local historic district to property values in a comparable non-designated district. The results are consistent. Property values do not decrease in value when compared to properties outside the designated district. They sometimes remain the same, but more typically they increase in value, sometimes significantly. A recent study conducted by theUniversityofFloridaof residential properties throughout the State ofFloridafound that, for the period between 2006 and 2009, historic districts tended to maintain their values better than non-historic neighborhoods. Local historic district designation is regarded as a protection on the investments made to properties in the district. Because the review of proposed improvements in the district stabilizes the neighborhood, historic districts become desirable locations and resale values also increase. Other benefits of local historic district designation include legal protection for historic resources, preservation tax incentives, community revitalization and diversity, increased tourism and a better quality of life.

Will local designation make my property taxes go up?

No. Property taxes are tied to real estate values. Property taxes for buildings within historic districts are taxed no differently than those outside the district.

Do I have to open my house to the public?

No. Many historic districts around the country offer historic open house tours, but individual participation is always voluntary.

Will I have difficulty selling my house because of the historic designation?

No. The fact that the house has a historic designation will not make your property more difficult to sell. In fact, a historic structure which is kept in good condition often commands a higher price in the real estate market. Many people will pay a premium for the prestige of owning an older historic home or to reside in an historic district.

Do I have any say in whether my neighborhood is designated as a historic district?

Yes. Public comment is an important part of the designation process. By law, property owners in a proposed local historic district must be notified of the proposal so that they may voice their opinion in favor or against any designation during the required public hearings.

Can a property owner “opt out” of being included in a local historic district?

No. After the public hearings are held and the City decides to establish a local historic district, it must follow the standards and guidelines created by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior for the National Register of Historic Places. The Secretary’s guidelines for determining historic district boundaries state that boundaries are based on geography, integrity and the significance of the resource, not on political boundaries or ownership. These guidelines go on further to state that “donut holes” can not be cut in the district to intentionally exclude properties.

Are all buildings within a historic district necessarily historic?

No. A historic district is comprised of two (2) different types of properties; contributing and non-contributing. Contributing properties generally add to the historic significance of the district by their location, design, setting, materials, workmanship and association, while non-contributing properties lack the qualities embodied in the criteria for designation of the district.

Can an individual property be designated?

Yes. The property to be designated should be 50 years old or older, and noteworthy for its design or construction techniques, for its information potential, or its association with a significant person or event. A historic resource must also retain its physical integrity and be a good example of period architecture, including quality in design, materials and workmanship for the period.

Is there any difference between having a property individually designated and being designated as part of a district?

No. The protections and benefits are equally applied regardless of whether a property is listed individually or is a contributing resource within a historic district.

My house is included in a local historic district, do I have to restore it to the way it was when it was originally built?

No. The purpose of local historic district designation is to retain as much of the original historic material that existed in the district at the time it was designated, while still making the structure comfortable and useful for modern living.

My house is a “non-contributing” structure. Do I need my rehabilitation reviewed for appropriateness?

Yes. A review is conducted on all work to the exterior of all properties within the historic district. A “non-contributing” structure is one which is less than 50 years old or a building greater than 50 years old which has lost its historical integrity and therefore is listed as “non-contributing” on the historical survey. The focus of review is to ensure that improvements that affect size, massing and placement do not adversely affect adjacent resources and those within the district overall. Additionally a property that is currently classified as “non-contributing” may have the potential to be classified “contributing” in the future.

Can I lease out my house?

Yes. Any previous legal use of the property permitted under the existing zoning district is still allowed.

Does being designated historic affect my ability to obtain/maintain insurance?

No. In speaking with several insurance companies, the insurance on the property is not affected by the property being designated historic, because in a catastrophic event, the property owner is not required to build the structure back identically to its original construction, such as period fixtures, materials and construction techniques.

What if I want to demolish my structure?

Owners of all properties within the City are required to obtain a demolition permit from the Building Department prior to demolishing any portion of a building. Structures within an historic district or individually designated must also first obtain approval from the Historic Preservation Board.

Will my yard be affected?

No. Landscaping is not subject to historic review. However, site walls and fences are subject to staff review, as are decks, patios and structures such as pergolas and sheds.

Does staff or the Board review work done on the back of the building or on other areas that cannot otherwise be seen from the street?

Yes. A review is conducted for any work to the exterior of the building, without distinguishing the location of the work. As noted in the Certificate of Appropriateness Matrix, depending upon the work to be accomplished, the review may simply be a staff review.

How do I apply for a Certificate of Appropriateness?

Applications are available here on our website or paper copies are available in the Development Services Department. Detailed directions are included. However, please don’t hesitate to contact staff at any time with any questions. You can reach the City’s historic Preservation Planner, Friederike Mittner at (561) 822-1457 or fmittner@wpb.org.

What type of technical assistance can I receive in preserving my property?

The Historic Preservation Section provides professional staff support to the Board and can assist property owners in solving problems typically encountered by historic property owners in the maintenance of their property.