Allowable Changes to Historic Properties
Can I make changes to my property?
Absolutely – historic properties are reflective of their time but can be updated to serve the needs of a modern family while keeping character-defining features. City Staff and the Historic Preservation Board (HPB) recommend changes that respect the original architectural design of the building. A Certificate of Appropriateness (COA-link) is required for work that will change the exterior appearance. The Historic Preservation Division does not review interior remodeling. A helpful matrix is included in the COA packet to indicate whether the desired work requires permit review, staff review, or HPB approval.
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. The level of review is dependent on the scope of project work. Generally, additions visible from the front of the property that are less than 10% of the existing building footprint, and those not visible from the front that are less than 20% of the existing building footprint, require only staff level review.
What about exterior paint colors?
Paint colors are not regulated by the Historic Preservation Section. Staff is willing to make recommendations for interested owners on period-appropriate color palates; however, owners are free to decide and such work does not require a permit. Neighboring property owners will likely have more interest in your paint colors than City staff.
Where can I get ideas for appropriate additions or alterations to my style of house?
The City of West Palm Beach Design Guidelines (link) was created to assist homeowners, developers, and interested parties in maintaining and improving their historic property. The guidelines cover architectural styles, how to make an alteration or addition that compliments the style of the home, and a review of building materials. Also covered is an overview of West Palm Beach program, history and related resources for those interested in historic preservation.
What if I want to demolish my structure?
Any building either individually designated or located within a historic district requires Historic Preservation Board review and approval. If granted, the owner may proceed to the Building Department for a demolition permit once plans for new construction have been approved. Those properties that contribute to the significance of the district are generally not approved for demolition.
All demolition permits for any structure within the City are reviewed by HP staff. This helps staff understand what areas are being redeveloped and presents the opportunity to record important properties before they are lost.
Starting Work on Your Historic Property
How do I apply for a Certificate of Appropriateness?
The Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) application (link) is available on our website or paper copies are available in the Development Services Department. The first page requires relevant project and owner information; the following pages have detailed instructions on what materials and information is required to complete the application. The type and amount of information needed depends on the nature of the development request, which is outlined in the COA matrix. Any exterior modifications require historic staff review. The level of review is dependent on the scope of project work. Questions may be directed to the historic preservation staff by calling the main planning line at (561) 822-1435, or by reaching Friederike Mittner, City Historic Preservation Planner, at (561) 822-1457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you review interior remodeling work?
No – only the exterior of your home or building is regulated by the Historic Preservation Ordinance. If interior layout modifications require the relocation or closing of exterior openings (such as windows or doors), the Historic Preservation section will need to see justification for those changes.
Is my yard and/or landscaping subject to review?
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. The City of West Palm Beach employs a landscape planner, and should be consulted for any landscaping questions. Generally, if the scope of work exceeds 50% of the improvement value, a landscape permit is required.
Vinyl fences are not permitted in historic districts since they are a modern material and do not weather well in Florida’s heat and UV radiation. Chain link fences are generally not permitted, unless vegetatively screened in the front by hedges or planted material. Wood and aluminum fencing, which historically existed in the older neighborhoods, is allowed as long as they meet the height and setback requirements of the zoning and land development regulations.
Is financial assistance available for rehabilitation work?
At the moment, no financial assistance is available to private homeowners for the rehabilitation of their historic home. Please review the information regarding federal tax incentives and the local Ad Valorem program on our general overview page.
Incentives to Preserve
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 Beach County subsequently 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.
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.
Do historic buildings have to meet modern energy code?
No – historic (contributing) buildings are exempt under the Existing Buildings, Florida Building Code from meeting energy requirements. Historic property owners can make sensitive improvements to increase the energy efficiency of their homes, such as installing interior or exterior storm windows, adding insulation to the walls and attic to increase overall R-values, and properly seal up foundations and plumbing gaps to prevent air infiltration.
Questions About Property Value and Insurance
Will local historic designation hurt my property values?
Historic designation has not been found to hurt property values. Comparing to non-designated properties in comparable neighborhoods, historic properties have equivalent or higher values. These are often the older neighborhoods closer to downtown or commercial areas and have increased accessibility. Historic districts also have the added benefit of design regulation, so the architectural style and neighborhood character is maintained for consistency. Because the review of proposed improvements in the district stabilizes the neighborhood, historic districts become desirable locations and resale values also increases. 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.
Does being designated historic affect my ability to obtain/maintain insurance?
Several insurance companies specialize in historic properties, both at the local level and those recommended by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Most insurers will need to understand that in a catastrophic event, the property owner is not required to rebuild an identical structure using period fixtures, materials, and construction techniques.
Can I lease out my house?
Any legal use of the property permitted under the existing zoning district is still allowed.
Tell me more about the designation process…
Can an individual property be designated?
Yes. Any property that is at least 50 years old, has architectural merit or is associated with a significant person may be proposed for designation. Archaeological sites, whether those are prehistoric or from early settlement, may also be nominated for their potential to yield future information. All eligible sites must have integrity of design and content, to ensure that they are complete representations of their historic period.
Do I have to open my house to the public?
Designation does not force an owner to open their house or building to the public. Staff finds that residents will often come together to promote house tours to increase pride and interest in their neighborhoods. Participation with these efforts is encouraged, but completely voluntary.
Will I have difficulty selling my house because of the historic designation?
No, a historic structure kept in good condition often commands a higher price in the real estate market. Although the interior may be updated, historic properties generally have more architectural details and better quality materials than new construction. Per local surveys, new residents remark that they will pay a premium for the prestige of owning an older historic home within an historic district.
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.
Do I have any say in whether my neighborhood is designated as a historic district?
Yes. Public comment is an important part of the initial 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.
Once designated, owners do not have an option of removing themselves from the historic district. Therefore, if you do not want to live in a historic district, a house in an undesignated area would be a better option.
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 add to the historic significance of the district in their architectural design and integrity of these features. Noncontributing properties have either been modified from their original form (and require restoration or reconstruction), or constitute newer construction that is outside the period of significance for the historic district.
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 follows 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” cannot be cut in the district to intentionally exclude properties.
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 during its time of construction, 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 exterior work for all properties within the historic. A “noncontributing” structure is one which is less than 50 years old or a building greater than 50 years old which has lost its historical integrity. 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 if historic features are restored.