Friday, January 27, 2012

So you're Cape Cod House is on the National Historic Register...

Sandwich Glass Factory in Town Hall Square Historic District,Sandwich, MA
Recently, three areas in Sandwich, Ma were added to the National Register of Historic Places, Spring Hill, Jarvesville and the expanded areas of Town Hall Square.  Since then, I've heard a lot of talk about what that designation means.  One real estate agent that I was speaking with didn't take a listing because she didn't know what red tape and restrictions were put on the property due to being on the National Register.  A neighbor worried that he would never be able to change the color of his door.  Ok, let's take a deep breath.  In a nutshell, being on the National Register of Historic Places does not mean any (more) red tape, building restrictions or door color mandates.

That is not to say that those areas don't have red tape, building restrictions or door color mandates, just that they don't stem from their National Register of Historic Places designation.  In other words, those restrictions already existed in the form of the Cape Cod Commission and the Sandwich Historic District Committee.  If you are a homeowner and want to add a garage, change your house color, build a fence, etc, you would still need to have your project approved by the Sandwich Historic District.  I know, but think of it this way, that's why Sandwich looks the way it does - beautiful!

So what is so great about being on the National Register then?  The National Park Service, that keeps the Register, is in the business of promoting historic preservation.  Being on the register is an honor - yes, you're special. (well, at least your home is).  After all, a property would only be added to the list if it met certain criteria.  So being on the list is good PR.  (think tourism) And, through the application and approval process, the property is archived for you and I, and future generations to study.

Also, as an owner of a historic investment property, you could qualify for a 20% tax credit for historic preservation, as long as the work done is in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation.  Another benefit to a homewoner is the possible application of International Building Code fire and life safety code alternatives.  For instance, if you are putting on an addition that would normally require ALL stairways to be brought up to code, you may be able to exempt the original, historic section of your house from this requirement.

Yet another benefit is that projects that are federally funded must be reviewed (under Section 106) to determine impacts to properties within the area that are on (or eligible to be on) the National Register.  For example, if you have an historic home that is near a highway expansion that will get federal funding, the project must be reviewed to determine what impact, if any, the project will have on your home and other historic properties in the "impact area".  Does this mean that the project will be stopped if negative impacts are determined?  Maybe, but more likely, those impacts will need to be mitigated. 

So it's OK to live in an area that's on the National Register of Historic Places.  Don't be afraid, and hold your head high!