Owners of Historic Properties FAQ
Your property may be historic in one of two ways: it could be individually historic, or it could be historic by virtue of lying within a historic district or conservation area. This FAQ is designed to help you understand what that means for you as an owner of a historic property.
A. For residential properties anywhere in San Jose, you should use the Planning Department's guidelines in Your Old House: Guide for Preserving San Jose Homes to regulate the kinds of additions and alterations you can make to the exterior of your property. These guidelines do not generally cover interior alterations.
The Downtown Design Guidelines cover all of the downtown area and should be followed for alterations or demolitions. In the very core of the downtown, two Historic Districts, the Downtown Historic Commercial district and St. James' Square, have their own Design Guidelines that further specify the kinds of changes you can make.
When you are planning changes to the exterior of a historic property, you should contact the City's historic preservation staff at (408) 277-4576, and discuss the changes with them. Construction of and new additions to single family homes that are not listed on the Historic Resources Inventory that exceed a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of .45 or a building height greater than 30 feet or two stories require a Single Family House (SFH) Permit in order to address neighborhood design review concerns. Projects that meet certain criteria qualify for administrative (approved at the staff level) Category 1 SFH Permits; while projects that exceed certain thresholds such as the removal of more than fifty percent (50%) of the exterior walls or the addition of a second story that is larger than sixty percent of the existing first floor area are subject to a Category 2 SFH Permit with a public hearing before the Director of Planning.
Currently, any alteration to a home that is listed in the Historic Resources Inventory (single family homes that are City Landmarks, within designated City Landmark Historic Districts and within Conservation Areas) that require the issuance of a building permit also require a SFH Permit to help protect historic character.
All homes designated as City Landmarks or located within designated City Landmark Historic Districts must obtain a Historic Preservation (HP) permit for any proposed exterior work. Historic Preservation Permits are subject to a public hearing before the Historic Landmarks Commission (HLC) and the Director of Planning. The HLC makes recommendations on the permit to the Director of Planning who approves, approves with conditions or denies the permit. Because the preservation of City Landmarks is of citywide concern, HP Permits are appealed to the City Council.
Q: Is my home in a historic district?
A. As California's oldest civilian settlement, San Jose has a lot of historic resources. Check out the maps on the Historic Districts page to see whether your property is within one of these.
The maps will also tell you what type of designation your property has: National Register, Eligible for the National Register, California Register, Eligible for the California Register, City Landmark, Eligible for City Landmark, Structure of Merit, Contributing Structure or Inventory Structure.
If that seems like a lot of mumbo-jumbo, don't worry. We explain what all of those terms mean in our Criteria and Classifications section.
Q: How historic is my property?
A. If your home is in either a historic district or a conservation area, it has automatically had a "historic evaluation" done by a professional historical consultant, and will be on the City's Historic Resources Inventory. You can get a copy of the historic evaluation by calling the City of San Jose Planning Division at (408) 277-4576 and asking for your "DPR" or "Primary Record". The Primary Record will confirm the level of designation your property has, and explains why it is considered historically significant.
Q: Can I alter or demolish my historic property?
Q: Where can I go to find out more?
A. Our Resource Center is open to PAC*SJ members at any time during working hours, and to non-members by appointment. The Resource Center is located inside le Petit Trianon Theatre at 72 North 5th Street, San Jose, Suite 9. Please call (408) 998-8105 to set up a time to come in and review our extensive archive of documents and materials to help you research historic properties and City policies and projects.
The City of San Jose's Historic Preservation Front Counter provides information on the City's preservation goals and policies, the Historic Landmarks Commission, preservation permits and financial incentives.
The City of San Jose's Planning Division Home Page helps you find current planning projects, neighborhood associations, permits, meetings and planning documents. The automated Faxback Service lets you quickly receive information on historic preservation programs, permits and the historic landmarks inventory, as well as other brochures, applications and policies.
You can research the history of your home at the San Jose Library California Room. Check out their online digital Sanborn maps, with detailed maps of San Jose dating back to 1884.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation provides an extensive list of links Preservation Resources, reprinted with permission, National Trust Forum, National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1785 Massachusetts Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20036, (202) 588-6053.
Preservation North Carolina has a nice FAQ on Preservation Easements.