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Frequently Asked Questions

Find Information on Becoming a Historical District

What is a historical district?

A historical district is a significant concentration, linkage or continuity of sites, buildings, structures or objects that are united historically, geographically, or aesthetically by plan or physical development and that have a special character, historical interest, cultural or aesthetic value, or that represent one or more architectural periods or style in the history and development of the city as defined in San Diego Municipal Code Section 113.0103 (PDF).

What criteria does a historical district need to meet in order to become designated?

A proposed historical district must meet one or more of the City's designation, consistant with the City's designatation criteria guidelines, please see the link to the left.

What information is included in a Historical Survey Report to create a historical district?

Often, potential historical districts are identified in Reconnaissance Level surveys. Nonetheless, an Intensive Level survey must be prepared to justify the historical significance of a potential district. Surveys may be prepared by professionals, or volunteers, or a combination of both. All surveys prepared either by volunteers or professionals must be reviewed by staff to determine survey completeness prior to HRB review. The survey identifies district boundaries and includes a District History and Significance Statement. Contributors, non-contributors, and distinguishing district features are mapped and recorded on standard state Department of Park and Recreation (DPR) forms. Substantial background research on each contributing property, including owners, architects, builders, etc., is also included on the forms. This information helps develop the District History and supports the Significance Statement. For the City's District Nomination Guidelines please see the link to the left.

How are contributing sites identified?

A contributing site meets the significance characteristics of the district. It has good physical integrity, in that most of its character-defining features are intact. It was built within the historical timeframe for the district and adds to the general understanding of the district's significance.

What is a non-contributing site?

A non-contributing site has been so substantially modified that it no longer conveys the historical significance of the district, and the modifications are not reversible. Alternatively, a non-contributing site was built outside the district's historical timeframe so it does not add to the understanding of the district's significance.

Can non-contributing sites become contributors?

Generally, no. However, if the significance of a district is re-assessed due to the passage of time, properties that were not old enough to be contributors at the time the district was established may qualify as contributors, pending a revision of the district's Significance Statement. Properties may also be restored under the guidance of staff.

What can I expect of the process to create a historical district?

For information on creating a historic district, please see our districts page.

What if some of my neighbors object to being part of a historical district?

As the Historical Survey Report is being prepared, those developing the district should be establishing local support for designation. Widespread public support is most critical to establish a Geographic/Traditional District because the designation applies to ALL of the properties within the district boundaries. If significant controversy is noted at the public hearing, the Board may recommend that further public support be solicited prior to establishing the district. If district criteria are met and a majority of contributors consent to designation, the Board can establish the district, despite minor objections. Finally, historical district designations are always subject to City Council appeal, per section 123.0203 (PDF) of the San Diego Municipal Code.

How long does it take to get a district designated?

Forming a district could take as much as one to two years after the documentation is submitted to the City, depending upon how many properties are included, whether professionals or volunteers are doing the work, the availability of Historical Resources Board staff for technical assistance and final review and processing, local controversy, and the Historical Resources Board docket schedule.

Why would I want to be part of a historical district?

Extensive research indicates significantly increased property values for those included in historical districts. This is due to the institution of development guidelines that regulate exterior maintenance, remodeling, demolition or new construction. Historical districts provide long-range certainty and stability for property owners, lenders, businesses and residents alike. Although individuals may not be able to maximize their property values, neighborhood property values benefit from consistency in style, materials, scale and use that strengthen neighborhood character and cohesiveness.

Contributors in historical districts are also eligible for Mills Act property tax deductions. They may also take advantage of the California Historical Building Code, which takes precedence over the Building Standards Code for any work on designated historical properties. This provides for alternative compliance in meeting fire, seismic and safety codes without compromising significant historical fabric and may result in substantial cost savings when rehabilitating a historical structure.

What are Development Guidelines?

All designated contributors to historical districts adhere to the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Preservation, Rehabilitation, Restoration, and Reconstruction. Developed by the National Parks Service, these are well-recognized standards for the treatment of historical properties. Broadly written, they afford the widest possible scope for continuing neighborhood vitality through private renewal and architectural creativity.

Per the Historical District Policy (PDF), more restrictive guidelinesmay be developed if the property owners so desire or if the Historical Resources Board determines that development guidelines are appropriate. The guidelines may include standards on plantings or objects (sidewalks, lighting fixtures, street trees, etc.) within public right or way, or fencing or other aspects of the front yard on private property visible from the street. Exterior paint colorsand materials can be regulated, as well as the scale and location of new additions on both contributors and non-contributors. Finally, development guidelines may regulate the size, scale, design and use of new infill on existing vacant lots, or where demolition of non-contributors has occurred.

Example Guidelines:

If I want to remodel or demolish my property, and it is located in a historical district, what do I have to do?

Significant alteration to a contributing site within a historical district must comply with applicable provisions of the San Diego Land Development Code. A Site Development Permit in accordance with San Diego Municipal Code Section 126.0502(d)(E) (PDF) is required for substantial alteration within historical districts and a recommendation of the Historical Resources Board is required prior to a Planning Commission decision on a Site Development Permit. An evaluation of the project's impacts in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act, including the appropriate environmental document, must also be completed before the Historical Resources Board considers the project. Furthermore, if a deviation for demolition or removal of a contributing structure within a historical district is approved, that applicant must obtain approval for new development before the issuance of a Demolition/Removal permit. See San Diego Municipal Code Sections 126.0502 (PDF), 126.0503 (PDF), 143.0250 (PDF), and 143.0260(c) (PDF).

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