Nothing to fear, much to gain in historic preservation

There’s nothing to fear and much to gain from historic districts, designation and preservation.

That is the quick message imparted recently by Community Development Director Lisa Scott, consultants Teresa Brum and Philip Thomason, and National & State Register Program Director Michael Houser. All attended public meetings about the proposed historic preservation plan for Aberdeen, held at the Museum of History Thursday evening.

While it can seem somewhat daunting, Aberdeen has handouts and free advice available for those seeking historic status either for a district or an individual commercial building or residence.

So will a resident be able to modify their house by going through the city if they want historic status through Aberdeen?

“Yes, you will!” reiterated Scott in an email, pointing out that “anything would trigger a building permit unless it is an emergency or a repair that is simple. Our Historic Preservation Commission is very lenient when it comes to what is allowed. As long as the improvements are not glaringly inappropriate, such as a bad addition, they would more than likely approve it.”

Resident Tim Martin came to check out what historic preservation would mean for his home on Ninth. He learned that, among other incentives, some properties can be exempted from some uniform standard building codes, “in the interest of preserving historic character while meeting safety requirements,” as Aberdeen’s register requirements note.

And they can be discussed on a case-by-case basis with Building Official Bob Waite by calling 360-537-3214, Aberdeen’s application materials note.

Alan Richrod, city council candidate, asked if a state 10-year tax incentive is transferable with ownership.

Yes it is, was the answer. The only way it goes away is by demolition. Owners of two properties on Aberdeen’s list, the D&R Theatre and the Masonic Lodge or Grand Heron, are reportedly taking advantage of it.

That “special valuation” incentive is a revision of assessed value of a historic property that subtracts from the assessment for up to 10 years, including rehabilitation costs approved by a local group such as the Aberdeen Historic Preservation Commission or Office.

In her presentation, Brum gave a theoretical example of saving up to $15,000 over 10 years from a property valued at $100,000, with a tax rate of 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

An income-generating property such as rental housing or a commercial building is eligible for a dollar-for-dollar federal tax credit equal to 20 percent of construction costs for rehabilitation. The property must be on a local register and that rehabilitation must comply with the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. The cost must total 25 percent or more of the assessed value of the structure prior to rehabilitation. If an owner’s tax burden is too low to make it pay, then the credit may be “sold” to a bank .who would then award the money to the owner at 90 to 95 cents on the dollar, Brum said.

Can modern changes be made in a remodel?

Yes. In one example, upper story windows replaced with vinyl and a kitchen extension were both approved by the local register because they conformed to the shape, owner Edie Carter said.

To qualify for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, either individually or as a contributing structure in a district, there are no controls or design review. Owners must consent and a listing can be stopped by petition. It is essentially honorary, they said.

In Aberdeen, you may also list individually or collectively. The designation is accompanied by an agreement to have work on the exterior of a structure reviewed prior to work starting; the owner must consent; and there will be a design review according to Interior’s standards to “insure that any alterations to property do not adversely affect the building’s character and appearance.”

More information can be found about registering or nominating a home or building at or by calling Scott at City Hall.