The National Register is a list of historic properties (buildings, structures, districts, sites, and objects) that are important to our nation’s history and are worthy of preservation. The National Register is a tool that can assist communities in identifying, interpreting, and planning for the preservation of the historic built environment. Being listed in the National Register is simply an honor, as there are no punitive measures taken to owners of properties listed in the National Register. Owners can demolish, alter, add, sell, or rent their property without any intervention by the Federal, State or local governments. While being in the National Register is honorific, it is the threshold for those properties wanting to take advantage of the Federal and State (VA) tax credits for rehabilitating a “certified historic building.” The National Register is administered by the National Park Service, US Department of the Interior. Arlington County currently has 78 listings in the National Register.
County: County’s Historic Preservation Program will undertake the research and complete the designation nomination forms to apply for listing in the National Register.
Owner: Being listed in the National Register places no restrictions on one’s actions involving a NR-listed property. However, listing in the National Register is one of the two threshold requirements required in order for a historic property to be eligible for Federal and/or State rehabilitation tax credits
Arlington Historic Districts are established by the Arlington County Board for historic properties (individual buildings, garden apartments, districts, cemeteries, natural formations) as per Section 31A of the Arlington County Zoning Ordinance. Properties designated as Arlington Historic Districts are: 1) protected by a zoning overlay; and 2) required to receive a Certificate of Appropriateness (CoA) from the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB) for all proposed exterior changes and demolition prior to obtaining building permits. Basic maintenance and repairs in kind are not reviewed by the HALRB. There are currently 31 Arlington Historic Districts.
County: County’s Historic Preservation Program will undertake the research and complete the local designation nomination forms to apply for listing as an Arlington Historic District.
Owner: Being designated as an Arlington Historic District requires the property owner to apply for and receive a Certificate of Appropriateness from the HALRB for all proposed exterior alterations and demolition that is beyond basic maintenance and repair in kind.
Preservation easements are legal agreements that become attached to the deed of the property and become binding to present and all future owners. Preservation easements are voluntarily entered into by the property owner with a qualified non-profit organization or government entity (easement holder) for the purpose of protecting a historic building and restricting future changes. The property owner conveys a portion of the rights on the building, but retains the ownership of the building. All exterior changes (as noted in most preservation easements) must be reviewed and approved by the easement holder prior to being undertaken. Easement donors are entitled to tax benefits for enacting a preservation easement. The tax benefits are based on the difference on the property value prior to and after the preservation easement is recorded. A tax attorney or CPA needs to be consulted to determine what, if any, tax benefits may be allowed by the property owner.
County: While the County can hold preservation easements, it is recommended that a qualified non-profit organization, such as the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, who was created for such transactions, be used for the easement holder.
Owner: Preservation easements are generally pursued by property owners for two main reasons: 1) the tax benefits; and 2) to protect their historic property beyond their ownership and into the foreseeable future. The property owner will have to pay the legal fees to create and record any preservation easement. The specific protections are enumerated in the preservation easement through an agreement between the preservation donor and preservation holder. For most historic buildings, the entire building envelope is protected and spelled out in the easement document.
A Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs) is a transaction between two property owners that allows the development rights from one site (donating site) to be utilized on another property (receiving site). The value of TDRs is the amount of density that passes from the donating site to the receiving site. While it puts limits on the donating site for its future potential development, it allows the receiving site to increase the allowable density for its site plan project. In the Clarendon Sector Plan, approved and adopted by the Arlington County Board in 2006, the County established a density incentive for historic preservation: “For full building preservation, the rate is 500% for the first 10,000 square feet of building area preserved and 300% for any remaining square footage preserved. For frontage and façade preservation, the rate is 500% for the amount of square footage preserved.”
County: While the County has identified the possible donating sites in the Clarendon area and the formula to be used to establish the square footage to be transferred, it has not created the criteria of what is expected of the donating site once the TDRs are agreed upon. The Historic Preservation Program recommends that the donating sites be required to maintain and preserve their historic elements/facade/building envelope. If not required to become an Arlington Historic District, then the Historic Preservation Program staff should be required to review and approve all proposed exterior changes and/or demolition for the donating sites. No TDRs or bonus density should be allowed for any project that demolishes a building listed in the HRI on the Essential or Important category.
Owner: It is the responsibility of the property owner desiring to utilize TDRs to initiate and negotiate with the owner of the potential donating site and secure the necessary agreement for purchasing this unused density. The actual use of the TDRs will be finalized by the County Board in their acceptance and approval of the proposed site plan project that involves the TDR transfer.
Both the Federal government and the Commonwealth of Virginia have enacted laws allowing tax credits to property owners who rehabilitated “certified historic buildings.” A certified historic building is one that is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as either an individual building or as a contributing building in a historic district. Property owners can take advantage of both the Federal and the State tax credit program. The Federal program allows a property owner to take a tax credit against one’s federal income tax liability at a dollar for dollar value. The amount of the credit is equal to 20% of the hard (rehabilitation construction costs) and soft (architectural and engineering fees, permit fees, consultant fees) project costs. All projects, besides being listed in the National Register, must: 1) have expenses greater than the adjusted basis of the building (cost of property, less land value, plus improvements to property, less depreciation already taken); 2) be income producing (residential rental, retail, office, etc.); 3) be undertaken using the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation; and 4) be approved by the National Park Service preservation tax credit reviewers. The tax credit amount can be used for a period of ten years unless the credit is zeroed out prior to that term.
The Virginia program allows a property owner to take a tax credit against one’s state income tax liability at a dollar for dollar value. The amount of the credit is equal to 25% of the hard (rehabilitation construction costs) and soft (architectural and engineering fees, permit fee, consultant fees) project costs. All projects, besides being listed in the National Register, must 1) have expenses greater than the assessed value of the building; 2) can be either an income producing building (residential rental, retail, office, etc.) or one’s private residence; 3) be undertaken using the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation; and 4) be approved by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources’ preservation tax credit reviewers. The tax credit amount can be used for a period of ten years unless the credit is zeroed out prior to that term.
County: The Historic Preservation Program staff gives free advice to owners on how they can take advantage of the Federal and/or State rehabilitation tax credit programs.
Owners: Property owners are responsible for adhering to all of the requirements set forth for both the Federal and State tax credit programs in order for their projects to be considered eligible and/or approved.