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Frequently Asked Questions
Owners and Development of Historic Property

1. What benefits do I receive for owning a Seattle landmark property or property in a preservation district?

2. What are the benefits of owning property in a preservation district or listed in the National Register of Historic Places?

3. What should I tell tenants in my historic building?

4. What kinds of changes can be made to property located in a preservation district or listed as a landmark?

5. How do I obtain a Certificate of Approval to make a change?

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

1. What benefits do I receive for owning a Seattle landmark property or property in a preservation district?

Seattle offers a number of incentives to owners of landmark properties and properties within preservation districts. These include:

  • Special Tax Valuation for Historic Properties - In 1985 the Washington State Legislature passed a law allowing "special valuation" for certain historic properties. Prior to that time, owners who rehabilitated historic buildings were subject to increased property taxes once the improvements were made. Special valuation establishes a period of up to ten years during which rehabilitation costs approved by the local review board are subtracted so that taxes do not reflect substantial improvements made to the property. The Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board is the local review board for the purposes of the law.


  • A property eligible for tax relief, as defined by the Seattle City Council, must meet three criteria:

    • It is a designated landmarks subject to a designating ordinance by the Seattle City Council or it is a contributing building located within a Seattle preservation District or National Register District.

    • The property must have undergone an approved rehabilitation within the two years prior to the date of application.

    • Rehabilitation must be equal in cost to at least 25 percent of the assessed value of the building or structure, exclusive of land value, prior to rehabilitation. "Qualified rehabilitation expenditures" are expenses chargeable to the project and include improvements made to the building within its original perimeter, architectural and engineering fees, permit and development fees, loan interest, state sales tax, and other expenses incurred during the rehabilitation period. Not included are costs associated with acquisition of the property or the enlargement of the building. Expenditures are based on the I.R.S. definition of Qualified Rehabilitation Expenditure.

  • Interested property owners must file an application by October 1 with the King County Assessor's office after the rehabilitation work has been completed. The Assessor transmits the application to the Landmarks Preservation Board for review. The Board reviews and approves the application, confirming the cost of the rehabilitation and its compliance with previous Board approval. Once approved, the property owner signs an agreement with the Board for a ten-year period during which time the property must be maintained in good condition. The owner must obtain approval from the Board prior to making future improvements. If the property is sold, the new owner must sign the same agreement for the special valuation to remain in effect.

  • Building Code Relief - The Seattle Building Code, which is adopted by the City Council to accompany the Uniform Building Code, allows the Director of DPD to modify specific requirements of the building code for landmark buildings. This is significant because the building code requires that when there is a conflict between a general requirement and a specific one, the specific requirement is applicable. There are two additional incentives for owners of designated landmarks subject to a designating ordinance.

  • Zoning Code Relief - The Director of the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) may authorize a use of a designated landmark not otherwise permitted in that zone. The Seattle City Council authorized this flexibility in order to encourage the preservation and use of historic buildings. An owner must file an application with DPD to be considered for a variance. Approval is subject to certain development standards that include approval by the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board.

  • Zoning Code Provisions for Downtown Seattle Landmarks - A Transfer of Development Rights program is available for Seattle landmarks located in downtown, retail and mixed use areas. Such a landmark in a downtown residential zone is exempt from any restriction on commercial density so long as the building is restored and committed for long-term preservation and contains residential floor area equivalent to that occupied by housing as of June 1, 1974. The Code also identifies fifteen buildings in the retail core for which a bonus for a major retail store or performing arts will not be granted unless the building facade is preserved. Development on the site that results in the destruction of a designated Seattle landmark is not allowed to acquire additional development rights through a floor area bonus.

2. What are the benefits of owning property in a preservation district or listed in the National Register of Historic Places?

Listing in the National Register makes it is eligible for several economic benefits.

When an owner donates a facade easement, that is, grants control of the property's facade to a nonprofit organization, the owner takes a charitable tax deduction based on the easement's appraised value and the nonprofit organization controls any changes made to the facade. Buildings listed in the National Register are eligible for certain types of grants-in-aid, information on which is available from the Washington State Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation (OAHP) in Olympia at (360) 586-3065. The federal Tax Reform Act of 1986 permits owners and some lessees of buildings listed in the National Register to take a 20 percent income tax credit on some rehabilitation costs. Contact OAHP for details.

3. What should I tell tenants in my historic building?

Tell tenants they are in a designated landmark or preservation district which grants them special benefits because of its unique character, but requires certain responsibilities of business owners in order to maintain that special character. This Internet site contains several pages that will help your tenants understand their responsibilities, Answers to 11 Questions About Historic Preservation in Seattle, Getting Approval to Alter a Historic Property, Information for Owners of a Business in a Preservation District, and the homepage for the preservation district where your property is located.

4. What kinds of changes can be made 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 Division 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

5. How do I obtain a Certificate of 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.

6. 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.

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