The St. Cloud City Council approved an ordinance establishing a Downtown Historic District on Thursday, putting policies in place that will add a layer of regulation and design standards for property owners in the district.
The ordinance also creates financial incentives -- including tax abatement -- for owners of historic buildings to maintain and improve their properties.
Planning & Zoning Manager Andre Anderson told GrowthSpotter to qualify as a local historic district, more than half of the buildings must meet the definition of a contributing or historically significant structure.
That typically means it was built at least 50 years ago and hasn't been significantly altered. The standard applies to both residential and commercial properties.
Anderson said the ordinance would not take effect until the city implements its new TRAKiT land management software program. The system is in testing now, and will roll out in March or April.
"We've got six months to put it all in motion," Anderson said. That includes adopting an initial set of design guidelines for the district.
Anderson said city officials are hoping the district will continue to spur economic development in the downtown core, which has seen significant investment in historic properties this year.
"These historic buildings tend to be tangible reminders of the past," he told property owners in a workshop earlier this year. "They embody a higher level of craftsmanship that is often not seen in new construction today."
The ordinance requires the city to appoint a Historic Preservation Board, which will regulate new construction in the district and renovations to contributing structures. Owners of such properties must apply for a Certificate of Appropriateness before making permanent changes to the exterior of a historic property.
"I don't look at it as regulation," Anderson said. "It's their property and they're expected to maintain their property anyway. This ordinance provides incentives for them to do what they're supposed to do."
Property owners could be eligible for federal preservation tax incentives. They can apply for CRA grants to pay for improvements to their buildings, and they can receive a property tax exemption for up to 10 years on the added value of the improvements.
Anderson assured property owners that the board would not be regulating paint colors. "Paint is not considered a permanent change to the structure, they can't tell you what color to paint your house."
The ordinance makes it more difficult for property owners to demolish historic buildings by giving the HPB the ability to delay demolition for up to three months, or require the property owner to salvage and preserve architectural elements.
The new regulations don't apply to two high-profile historic buildings that changed hands this year.
ADMC CEO Albert Leka followed that with the September purchase of the Hunter Arms Hotel, which he is also renovating. Leka struck a deal in October with the city to build a 10- to 15-story mixed-use tower on a city-owned lot directly behind the St. Cloud Hotel.
Anderson said even though the two hotels are "historically significant" to the district, Leka would not be required to go through the HPB process.
"They have active permits now, so this code wouldn't apply to them," Anderson. "As of today, we don't have a code in place so our standard (Central Business District) codes apply."