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I just heard back from Betsy McCullough, the deputy director in the city’s Planning Department, with some more details on the fee increase for the type of historic designation I wrote about today.

The new fees, which are slated to go before the City Council for review next month, work like this:

  • $1,185 nomination fee: The initial fee a homeowner would pay to have the home considered for historic designation. (Currently, the nomination doesn’t have a fee attached.) That’s the cost, McCullough said, of the staff time it takes to evaluate the home’s application and historic elements as reported by the homeowner.
  • $590 Mills Act agreement fee: The contract fee signed by homeowners who want to enter a Mills Act agreement. (Currently, that fee is capped at $400). That means the city discounts homeowners’ property taxes by 25 to 75 percent in exchange for them keeping up the historic elements of their property. In other words, such homes can’t change out historic windows or re-stucco or install a deck without special permission.
  • $492 Mills Act monitoring fee: This would be charged initially and then once every five subsequent years for the staff time to monitor the preservation of the more than 700 so-designated homes and sites around the city. Says McCullough: “If we are granting a property tax reduction in exchange for maintaining their property, we do have a responsibility to make sure they are maintaining their property.”
  • $949 code enforcement: If monitors find a renovation violation and the homeowners refuse to correct the violation, city staff could charge this fee to engage the city attorney or code enforcement officers.

The fee increase issue came up a year ago and my colleague, Will Carless, wrote about it here.

McCullough emphasized that for the district in question, the first nomination fee wouldn’t apply. She said city staff have calculated that it would take homeowners about two years to gain the money back from property tax reductions that they’d expend on the fee.

She acknowledged that there are some homeowners in these historic homes that can’t manage that up-front expense. For them, McCullough mused, perhaps an organization like the Save Our Heritage Organisation or another heritage group could sponsor grants or loans to homeowners. She said the proposed fee increase is a response to a statement from the city attorney that the department charge fees enough to cover the services provided in situations such as this.

KELLY BENNETT

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