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Frequently Asked Questions

Altering a Landmark

1. What kinds of changes can I make to property located in a preservation district or listed as a landmark?

2. How do I get approval to make a change?

3. Can I appeal the decision on my application for a Certificate of Approval?

4. Must I get a Certificate of Approval before I get a permit from another city department?

5. How long does it take to get approval for a change?

6. What are the chances a change will be approved?

7. What happens if I make a change without a Certificate of Approval?

8. Why must I get a Certificate of Approval for a change that doesn't require a building permit?

9. Why do I have to get a Certificate of Approval and a building permit?

10. Why do I need approval to alter a newer building that's located in a preservation district?

11. Can I get preliminary feedback on a project?

1. What kinds of changes can I make to property located in a preservation district or listed as a landmark?

There are fewer restrictions than you might think since the goal is to manage change, not to eliminate it. Protection is provided by review and approval of modifications to the exteriors and, in some cases, the interiors of buildings. In other cases, building use is monitored. Review guidelines and the process of applying for a Certificate of Approval to make a change vary depending on the district or landmark. Consult the Historic Preservation Program at (206) 684-0228 or the Internet homepage for the preservation district where your property is located.

The following changes require a Certificate of Approval before work can begin, even if no permit from the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) is required.

  • Any change to the exterior of any building or structure
  • Installation of any new sign or changes to existing signs
  • A change in the color the building or structure is painted
  • Any change in a public right-of-way or other public space, including parks and sidewalks - this may include sidewalk displays, street lights and so forth
  • New construction
  • Demolition of any building or structure
  • Changes to the interior that show from the street, changes to individual business spaces in the Pike Place Market, and changes to the interior of some landmark buildings
  • Site alterations in some cases
  • A proposed new business or service or an expansion of current use in some cases

2. How do I get approval to make a change?

Before you make any change to a structure or site in a preservation district or to a landmark, contact the Historic Preservation Program so we can recommend next steps. You can reach us at (206) 684-0228. Specific requirements vary by district, but in general the approval process consists of these steps:

Step 1: Complete an application for a Certificate of Approval. Landmarks and preservation districts have separate application forms since requirements vary. The Historic Preservation Program will send you an application. See Instructions for Applying for a Certificate of Approval for additional information about the process.

Step 2: Submit the original of the completed application, any other required information, and a check to cover the administrative fee. Mail or deliver it to the Historic Preservation Program.

Step 3: The Historic Preservation Program Coordinator checks your application for completeness and compliance with guidelines. After your application is determined complete, the coordinator places it on the agenda for the next public meeting of the Board or Commission responsible for overseeing your property. In some cases, the coordinator will also schedule you to meet with a Design Review, Architectural Review or Use Review Committee. These committees meet prior to the full Board meeting and make a recommendation to the full Board.

Step 4: At the full meeting of the Board, you present your application and the members vote on it. Based on the vote, your application is approved, approved with conditions, or denied. You are then issued a Certificate of Approval or a Letter of Denial.

3. Can I appeal the decision on my application for a Certificate of Approval?

Yes, there is an appeal process. Each board or commission has a specific appeal procedure that should be consulted. All appeals are made by the City of Seattle Hearing Examiner, 700 5th Ave, Suite 4000, PO Box 94729, Seattle, WA 98124-4729, (206) 684-0521. A $50 filing fee must accompany the appeal. The Hearing Examiner's decision is the final City review.

4. Must I get a Certificate of Approval before I get a permit from another city department?

Yes, you must obtain a Certificate of Approval before the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) will issue a building, sign, or master use permit or the Engineering Department will issue a street use permit.

5. How long does it take to get approval for a change?

Because the purpose of having citizen boards is to ensure neighborhood interests are represented, it is the Board, not staff, that determines if the proposed work is eligible for a Certificate of Approval. The approval process takes place at a regular Board meeting after the Historic Preservation Program Coordinator determines your application is complete. However, if you submit an incomplete application, the process depends on when you to submit all the information required for the Board to review your proposal in an informed manner.

6. What are the chances a change will be approved?

If your building is located inside a preservation district, review of the ordinance that established the District and the use and design guidelines developed to protect it are your best measure as to whether the change you want to make is appropriate. For a landmark, consult the designating ordinance or the Controls and Incentives Agreement for that property.

7. What happens if I make a change without a Certificate of Approval?

If unapproved work is in process, the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) will issue a "stop work" order at the request of the Historic Preservation Program. The business or property owner then must submit an application for approval to the appropriate board or commission. If the change is not approved, the owner may be required to undo the change and repair any damage to the historic building at his or her own expense. If a change is not made as represented and approved, a Certificate of Approval can be revoked. Contact the Historic Preservation Program before you start any project by calling (206) 684-0228.

8. Why must I get a Certificate of Approval for a change that doesn't require a building permit?

Different City departments have jurisdiction over different aspects of development. The design changes you may want to make may not involve structural changes requiring review by the Department of Planning and Development. However, they will affect the appearance of the building, so must be reviewed under the District or landmark design standards that apply.

9. Why do I have to get a Certificate of Approval and a building permit?

The two reviews are separate processes. The application fee for a Certificate of Approval is very nominal, just $10.00 for use review. For exterior changes, it is $10.00 for the first $1,500 of construction costs and $10.00 for each additional $5,000 of construction costs up to a maximum fee of $1,000.

10. Why do I need approval to alter a newer building that's located in a preservation district?

The overall importance of a preservation district relies on the visual contribution of everything in the District. A newer building must meet design and use standards that ensure its compatibility with the rest of the District.

11. Can I get preliminary feedback on a project?

Staff at the Historic Preservation Program can provide feedback. Any of the preservation Boards or their subcommittees can grant preliminary approval. For large-scale projects, applicants are encouraged to meet with the Design or Architectural Review Committee to work through design issues on a phased basis.

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