Friday, September 30, 2005
Charming historic districts bear responsibility
By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon
One of our clients, Noreen Heid, purchased a home near downtown Salt Lake City in 1991. She loved the charm of the neighborhood and the quaintness of her 1930s house, but the house had been through updates over the years that included adding aluminum siding, a big concrete porch and wrought iron columns.
A few years ago, Heid got a glimpse of what her house used to look like. She came across a black and white photo taken in 1936 for tax purposes. She and her husband decided it was time to restore some of the original detail as well as expand the living space, so she began to plan for a major renovation.
However, Heid had an extra and not insignificant fact to consider: Her home is in one of Salt Lake's six local historic districts. Anyone living in one of these districts or anyone thinking about it needs to understand the implications: It means enjoying the historic charm of the neighborhood and shouldering the responsibility to preserve it.
Overseen by the Historic Landmarks Commission, Salt Lake City's six historic districts are the Avenues, Capitol Hill, Central City, South Temple, University and Exchange Place. When it comes to renovation or new construction, these districts have specific design standards set by the city. These standards do not require a literal historic restoration of a property, but they do require a renovation that is compatible with the historic streetscape of the neighborhood and the original design of the structure.
There are several benefits to living in a historic district. The most obvious is the historic value and beauty of the neighborhood. The renovation guidelines help preserve this beauty by prohibiting you or your neighbors from doing renovations that may detract from the historic appeal. In addition, studies have shown that when a historic district is established, property values tend to stabilize or even rise. There are also income tax credits available at both the state and federal level for some remodeling projects and low-interest loans available from the Utah Heritage Foundation.
On the other hand, when you live in a historic district, you take on certain responsibilities and, yes, red tape when you choose to remodel your home. Your architectural plans must accommodate the historic character of the area and follow the established guidelines. You may face restrictions in terms of the size and shape of any additions as well as in the materials used.
For all remodels you need a building permit. However, when remodeling in a historic district, you will first need the approval of the city planning department and, in some cases, the approval of the Historic Landmark Commission itself.
Our client Noreen Heid was happy to take on these responsibilities. "We knew we wanted to do some renovation, and this was an extra incentive to do it right," she told us. Heid is so committed to the historic nature of her area that she has also become a member of the Historic Landmark Commission, which is made up of volunteers who live in the districts. For her and her family, choosing a historic district — with all its opportunities and responsibilities — was the right choice.
For more information, including maps of the districts, visit Salt Lake City's Web site at www.slcgov.com and look under "City Directory" for "Historic Landmark Commission." As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.