Local Historic Districts

Local Historic Districts have been created by the city of Austin to recognize and protect those neighborhood areas with particular historical significance. Local Historic Districts are different from National Register Historic Districts such as the Old West Austin Historic District of which Bryker Woods is a part. See http://www.owahd.org City of Austin Local Historic Districts may be of any size (some as small as a block) and provide several tools for neighborhood preservation. A Local Historic District provides a higher “bar” for evaluating the demolition or relocation of homes while providing design standards for new construction within the district. Design standards provide property owners and builders parameters for the design of new construction, as well as providing neighbors within the district a higher level of comfort knowing that new construction will be required to follow accepted design standards based upon the existing architecture within the district. Each Local Historic District’s design standards will be individually tailored to meet the needs of the particular district, and may address building materials, height limits, and setbacks for new construction within the district. Local Historic Districts do not restrict additions to a home or limit the size of home built – the size of addition and new construction is determined by SF-3 zoning. There are many misconceptions about Local Historic districts. See Local Historic Districts FAQ’s below for more details.

Does the Bryker Woods neighborhood need a Local Historic District?

Ultimately it is up to property owners to make this decision. If a part of the Bryker Woods neighborhood wants to protect and preserve the streetscape and historical character, a Local Historic District should be sought. Otherwise the “teardown” phenomena will continue to change the character of the Bryker Woods neighborhood. In other words, the only way to protect the neighborhood character is through the establishment of a City of Austin Local Historic District. Moreover, there are many substantial benefits associated from obtaining official status as a City of Austin Local Historic District. The Bryker Woods Neighborhood Association BWNA encourages and supports initiatives such as Local Historic Districts to preserve the National Register Old West Austin Historic District.

Bryker Woods continues to evolve. The change most obvious is the scraping and rebuilding of new homes. And while change in and of itself is not bad, many in the neighborhood are concerned about the size and type of homes being built. The Bryker Woods neighborhood is part of the National Register Old West Austin Historic District (OWAHD) and contributing homes by their nature are quite vulnerable to insensitive redevelopment. Neighborhood property owners collectively should decide the direction their part of Bryker Woods should evolve. Otherwise, as homes are scraped the development community makes the decision house by house. And such decisions are far too frequently incongruent with the values of neighborhood residents.

The only thing governing building in the Bryker Woods neighborhood is SF-3 zoning. This is why spec home builders  scrape homes and rebuild in central Austin neighborhoods zoned SF-3. Unfortunately substantial profit associated with the exploitation of flexible SF-3 zoning drives much of re-development in Bryker Woods, especially the speculative type. And this particular type of development is almost always the most insensitive and intrusive type.

Bryker Woods is not alone. Other neighborhoods in Austin are also quite interested in Local Historic Districts – see what they have to say!

Learn more about Austin’s Local Historic Districts and how to begin the process for your part of the neighborhood!


Benefits of Local Historic Districts

Local districts protect the investments of owners and residents. Buyers know that the aspects that make a particular area attractive will be protected over a period of time. Real estate agents in many cities use historic district status as a marketing tool to sell properties.

Local districts encourage better design. It has been shown through comparative studies that there is a greater sense of relatedness, more innovative use of materials, and greater public appeal within historic districts than in areas without historic designations.

Local districts help the environment. Historic district revitalization can, and should, be part of a comprehensive environmental policy.

The educational benefits of creating local districts are the same as those derived from any historic preservation effort. Districts help explain the development of a place, the source of inspiration, and technological advances. They are a record of ourselves and our communities.

A local district can result in a positive economic impact from tourism. A historic district that is aesthetically cohesive and well promoted can be a community’s most important attraction. The retention of historic areas as a way to attract tourist dollars makes good economic sense. In Austin the film industry frequently makes use of old central Austin neighborhoods.

The protection of local historic districts can enhance business recruitment potential. Companies continually re-locate to communities that offer their workers a higher quality of life, which is greatly enhanced by successful local preservation programs and stable historic districts.

Local districts provide social and psychological benefits. A sense of empowerment and confidence develops when community decisions are made through a structured participatory process rather than behind closed doors or without public comment.



Local Historic District FAQ’s (courtesy of Travis Heights and Old Enfield)

What is a Local Historic District?
A local historic district is a zoning overlay for areas in which historic buildings and their settings are protected by public review. Historic district ordinances are local laws that are adopted by communities using powers granted by the state. Many communities in Texas have had this ordinance for a long time, Austin has just passed such an ordinance. Inclusion in a historic district signifies that a property contributes to an ensemble that is worth protecting by virtue of its historic importance and/or architectural quality. This designation offers the most protection for neighborhoods of historic and architectural significance by ensuring that exterior alterations are consistent and appropriate with the existing character of the neighborhood. It is the most effective legal means to protect the distinctive and significant characteristics (the historic character) of buildings, neighborhoods, streetscapes, and special landmarks from insensitive alterations and new construction, as well as outright demolition. It encourages changes and new designs that are compatible with the area’s historic distinctiveness.

What constitutes a Local Historic District and contributing homes?
A Local Historic District’s criteria are quite similar to the criteria for a National Register Historic District. And because almost all of the Bryker Woods neighborhood falls within the National Register Old West Austin Historic District, much of Bryker Woods already meets the criteria for a City of Austin Local Historic District. Learn of the specifics for Local Historic District criteria.

What is the difference between a Local Historic District and a National Register Historic District?
The LHD Design Standards are binding, while the NRHD guidelines are merely advisory. A National Register listing may protect properties from federally sponsored impacts. Austin currently has one LHD and 14 NRHDs. The application for an LHD requires 60 percent sign-on from residents, while an NRHD requires no sign-on (because it does not constrain development). A National Register District only provides limited protection from adverse effects by federal or state involved projects. If there is no such involvement, a listing in the National Register does not limit an owner’s handling of the property. Owners of private properties listed in the National Register are free to maintain, manage, or dispose of their property as they choose provided that no Federal monies are involved. This designation does not prevent insensitive: remodels, new construction or demolitions. The primary strength of a local historic district designation comes from the creation of design standards that we, Bryker Woods, create. These standards are tailored to our specific preservation needs, they can be as strict or as loose as we wish.

Who determines the establishment of a Local Historic District?
Sixty percent of homeowners within the proposed district must approve the formation of a local historic district in order for one to exist. If not, there are no other means to stop insensitive remodels & new constructions or demolitions of contributing properties. By approving the formation of a District, each homeowner is agreeing that they want to keep the look and feel of the neighborhood or part of the neighborhood. Local Historic districts may be as small as a block or as large a group of neighbors desire.

What will happen to property values?
Historic district zoning can help to enhance property values by maintaining the neighborhood’s character, and it benefits property owners by protecting them from inappropriate changes made by other owners that might destroy the special qualities of the neighborhood. Research has shown that Local districts protect the investments of owners and residents. Buyers know that the aspects that make a particular area attractive will be protected over a period of time. One study considered the effects of historic designation on residential property values in nine Texas cities. Results show that historic preservation generally has a positive impact on property values. Critics of historic preservation often charge that designation negatively impacts property values. The evidence from Texas suggests just the opposite; designation enhances value. (Historic Preservation and Residential Property Values: An Analysis of Texas Cities, Leichenko, Coulson, and Listokin 2001). “Historic designation is thought to have a positive impact on property values by providing a form of insurance of future neighborhood quality.” “assurance that its desirable historic amenities will be fostered into the future by public regulation”.

Are there any tax benefits?
Yes. For remodeling projects on contributing structures in a Local Historic District, the city will freeze property taxes for 7 years, at the pre-rehab value, if the project includes a percentage that would restore the exterior, visible from the streetscape. The city is still determining the dollar amount and specific projects required to qualify. The city will do the same for Non-Contributing properties that bring their status up to Contributing. Non-owner-occupied houses could receive a tax freeze for 10 years but would have to invest a great amount of money into a project. Income-producing properties within a National Register District are also eligible for tax credits at the federal level if the property is restored.

How are design guidelines determined?
Design standards are both written and graphic guidelines for property owners to use when considering the appropriateness of exterior alterations, additions, demolitions, and new construction in a local historic district. These standards provide protection of character-defining exterior features of a property, but not historic interiors. Design standards are the key support materials for administering a Local Historic District through a review process. Review of proposed changes to properties against the standards ensures that work on a property, either remodels to contributing homes or new construction, is appropriate to the special character of our neighborhood.

Must I restore my house to its original condition?
No. The property can remain as it is when designated and all materials can be replaced in kind with similar materials. You would only need a Certificate of Appropriateness granted by the Historic Landmark Commission to change the materials or alter the design.

Can I remodel the interior without review?
Yes. The Historic District would have no jurisdiction on the interior of historic properties, just the exterior.

Can I put an addition on my historic property?
Yes, you can! The Historic District prefers additions be located away from public view to preserve the period streetscape. The Historic District encourages people to meet with the city’s Landmark Commission early in the design process and get feedback on the design. The addition should be compatible with your house and appropriate for your streetscape. Additions also must comply with the other zoning ordinances and receive building permits.



LOCAL HISTORIC DISTRICTS IN AUSTIN
By Steve Sadowsky, City of Austin Preservation Officer

Austin’s historic buildings and neighborhoods create the unique character and heritage of our city. In December 2004, the Austin City Council adopted an ordinance authorizing the establishment of local historic districts to recognize and protect those areas with particular historical significance to maintaining Austin’s rich heritage.

Local historic districts provide several tools for preservation, starting with a greater appreciation and understanding of the development and history of a neighborhood and its buildings. Historic district nominations contain a detailed history of the district, an inventory, photograph, and history of every building in the district, and an evaluation of which buildings are contributing to the historic character of the district.

Local historic districts provide a higher “bar” for evaluating the demolition or relocation of important buildings in a neighborhood. Currently, the City Historic Preservation Office and the Historic Landmark Commission review applications for demolition or relocation permits to determine whether a building meets the criteria for designation as a historic landmark. The determination is made according to objective criteria, but designed to protect those buildings with exceptional significance to the city because of their architecture and historical associations. Buildings which are contributing to a local historic district may not qualify as individual historic landmarks. The establishment of local historic districts will help protect those properties which are significant to the neighborhood for their architecture (“contributing” to the historic character of the district) but which do not meet the high standards necessary for designation as a historic landmark.

Local historic districts also provide design standards for new construction within the district. The Historic Landmark Commission currently reviews applications for building permits within National Register Historic Districts, and provides recommendations to the property owner to make the new construction more compatible with the historic character of the district. While the Commission encourages the property owner to revise his or her plans to help preserve the historic character of the neighborhood, there is no requirement that the property owner do so. Local historic districts will have mandatory design standards, which provide property owners and builders parameters for the design of new construction, as well as providing neighbors within the district a higher level of comfort knowing that new construction will be required to follow accepted design standards based upon the existing architecture within the district. The district design standards will be individually tailored to meet the needs of the particular district, and may address building materials, height limits, and setbacks for new construction within the district. Additions to contributing buildings and new construction will require a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Historic Landmark Commission prior to receiving a building permit.

For those who fear that local historic districts will result in onerous burdens and long delays in approval of projects, rest assured that the Historic Landmark Commission meets every month (usually the fourth Monday of the month). As long as an application for a Certificate of Appropriateness is filed in time to provide legal notice (generally 21 days in advance of the Landmark Commission meeting), the Commission will hear and review a case the same month that the application is filed. The City Historic Preservation Office may approve minor projects which comport with the district design standards, such as one-story rear additions, rear decks and porches, and pools without a hearing before the Historic Landmark Commission, streamlining the process further.

Finally, local historic districts will enable a new provision to provide a City property tax incentive for rehabilitating buildings within the district. The building must be contributing to the district to qualify for the incentive, or if it is non-contributing, the rehabilitation project must restore the building to contributing status by removing those unsympathetic architectural modifications which made the building non-contributing. An owner-occupant of a contributing or potentially contributing residential property must reinvest at least 25% of the value of the structure in “qualified rehabilitation expenditures”, with at least 5% of the value of the structure spent on exterior rehabilitation. The Historic Landmark Commission will review rehabilitation proposals and certify the project upon completion, at which time the owner is eligible to receive a City property tax abatement on the added value of the project for 7 years. For example, if the owner of a $100,000 house invests $30,000 in rehabilitation work approved by the Landmark Commission and the value of the property jumped to $150,000 after the completion of the project, the city property tax assessment would be “frozen” at the $100,000 value of the house for 7 years. The owner of an income-producing contributing (or potentially contributing) property must re-invest at least 40% of the value of the structure, with at least 5% of the value of the structure in exterior rehabilitation to be eligible for a City property tax abatement on the added value of the project for 10 years.

Learn more about Austin’s Local Historic Districts and how to begin the process for your part of the neighborhood!

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