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San Diego California, established in 1769 is known for miles and miles of sandy beaches and an inviting mild climate. “The birthplace of California” is also a hub for the healthcare and biotechnology industries. San Diego is also rich in history. 

Old Town is the oldest historical district in San Diego. It includes several restored adobes, the Whaley House, a Greek Revival building, and much more. According to the San Diego Cultural Heritage Alliance, Old Town is historically significant because it is the birthplace of San Diego! Other notable historic properties include the 1920’s Liberty Station, Victorians, seaside cottages, and many more! In fact, designated historic properties can be found throughout the San Diego area and only add to the rich culture that is so uniquely San Diego.

This is your ultimate guide to getting your property designated as historic, understanding the perks and applying for the Mills Act Program.  

Why is Historic Designation so Important for the San Diego Community?

According to the San Diego Planning Department, preservation of historic properties and structures:

  • Stabilizes neighborhoods
  • Promotes cultural heritage tourism
  • Offers a dynamic landscape

Many believe that learning where you come from as a community helps bring people together. 

How Do You Know If Your Home Can be Designated as Historic?

You can’t just decide to make your home historic and sign up. There is an official process. Your home must meet certain criteria in order to be eligible. These criteria are set forth by the National Register. In order for your property to qualify, it must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • The property must be connected with events or people that made a significant impact on our nation’s history.
  • If the above doesn’t apply, a property or building can still be deemed historic if it contains architectural details of historical significance, the method of construction is historically significant or it was built by someone of historical importance.
  • The property contains or has the potential to contain important historical information. 

Which Organization is Responsible for Designating Historic Properties?

If you’re looking to have your property in San Diego marked as a historical site, you will need to present the required documentation to the Historical Resources Board. The Historical Resources Board is the organization that is responsible for granting or denying a property historic designation.

Who is the Historical Resources Board?

The Historical Resources Board is an appointed body made up of volunteers who are picked by the mayor and approved by the council. Meetings and decisions must be made in an objective manner. If there is a conflict of interest, the board can recuse itself from the matter. 

Duties of the Historical Resources Board

The Historical Resources Board is primarily concerned with the preservation of San Diego’s historical structures. They accomplish this in a variety of ways, but their main duties include:

  • Designating individual historical sites
  • Establishing historical districts
  • Reviewing development projects 
  • Prepare an annual report of the organization’s activities
  • Participates in voluntary historic preservation programs
Old Presidio building in the Old Town San Diego Historic Park, California

Steps to Obtaining Historic Designation

  1. The very first step is to obtain a thorough history of your home and property. This must be submitted in writing to the Historical Resources Board. There are two ways you can go about obtaining the history of the home. You can either pay someone to dive deep into records, make phone calls, etc. or you can search through records yourself. Many choose to hire someone as searching through records and talking with next of kin can be extremely time consuming and take many months to complete. 
  2. Once you have written documentation of the historical significance of your property, you must submit it to the Historical Resources Board. The board will then review the documentation and determine whether or not your home qualifies. 
  3. If your home is approved, it will be added to a database of historic homes and buildings. 
  4. Next, your home will receive a unique historic landmark number.
  5. If there is a person of historical significance tied to the home, then your home may even receive a unique name. 

The Benefits of Having Your Home Designated as a Historic Property

In addition to cool perks such as being nationally recognized as a historic property, obtaining a unique number, and the satisfaction that you are preserving a piece of history, there are monetary benefits as well. The Mills Act Program is a program designed to give owners of historic properties tax breaks while promoting the preservation of the property.

What is the Mills Act Program?

The Mills Act Program is an incentive program in California that is an agreement between property owners and the government. The program offers tax relief for participating individuals who have their home designated as a historic property and apply for the program. It is important to understand that just because your home obtains historic designation does not mean your property is automatically enrolled in the Mills Act Program. You must apply separately. Click here for the Mills Act Program Application. This form must be submitted for all Mills Act requests.

The Purpose of the Mills Act Program

The purpose of the Mills Act Program is to offer property owners tax breaks each year. Most property owners save thousands of dollars annually. The idea is that this money is supposed to be reinvested in the preservation of the property. The act is designed to make sure improvements are made on the property and that it retains its original look, feel, and significance. You will have a list of improvements that the Historical Resources Board would like to see completed for historical preservation. 

The best part about the Mills Act Program is that the tax break doesn’t end when all of the improvements are made. This voluntary contract is for life. This will save you serious money.

Preserve a Piece of History and Save Money at the Same Time!

Having your home designated as historic not only preserves a bit of San Diego history for future generations but will save you thousands upon thousands of dollars over the years. Applying for both historic designation and the Mills Act Program are very straight forward processes. 

If you are considering purchasing a home designated as historic, under the Mills Act Program or both, you may understandably have some questions and concerns. With over 15 years of experience in the real estate industry, I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have and help you navigate the process of buying your next home! Contact me today for more information!