Designation 101 Part 2 – Top designation myths
For most people, the idea of pursuing designation or deciding whether a property is worthy of designation can be a pretty daunting and mysterious one. We were the same when we started considering it, and discovered that there are a lot of assumptions, speculation and misinformation out there in terms of what it means, and how it works.
So below are some of the most common questions or comments that we received over the course of our designation process. Note that this is by no means a comprehensive list, or even the most relevant questions, but they are the ones that came up again and again in conversations, comments on social media and in the news.
Please note that the following are our thoughts and experiences only, and we are not speaking on behalf of any organization etc. There will be a related list of resources at the end of the series for more information, but if you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
The top designation myths/comments
In no particular order:
- You won’t be able to sell the house after it’s designated. Not true. This was probably the most common comment we got from family and friends. While it’s true that because the house cannot be demolished the pool of possible buyers is smaller, studies (including studies in Canada) have shown that designated properties are actually better at holding their value in markets that swing through cycles of highs and lows.
- Designation means you cannot make any changes without a big bureaucratic process. Partially true. As a part of creating the designation bylaw (see part 3), we worked closely with the City to define exactly what components of the property are specifically called out in the designation, and to what degree. Because these components are what defines the property as unique, there should be no reason to change them, in fact doing so would fundamentally change the nature of the property and therefore this creates a safeguard to make sure those elements do not get altered. A couple of specific examples from the Calgary Trend House:
- The front facade. This creates a very specific appearance from the street, so any major alteration to that would fundamentally alter the presence of the house. So you could not do anything that would change the original front elevation that is exposed to the public, for example: change the single garage to a double garage, or add a second story to the front of the house, or change the clerestory windows in the front to big picture windows. All of which makes sense – the house is in the same configuration it was when it was built so changing that would be not be preserving it. But what it does NOT mean is that we are restricted in terms of what colour we can paint the house or the trim etc. or to repair things to bring them back to original condition. Again this is clearly laid out in the designation documentation, as a result of working with the municipal heritage authority.
- The interior cedar ceiling. this is another example of what makes the house unique and what we wanted to make sure that no one changed it. So for example, replacing the ceiling with drywall would not be allowed – but why would you want to?
- Designation means that the City purchases your home and you get to live in it for free. False. Trust me – we are still paying our mortgage on the house.
- Designation means you don’t have to pay property taxes on the home. False. However, one of the topics that is discussed by many organizations dedicated to historic preservation across the country in terms of incentives to make designation a more attractive option for property owners is a freeze or reduction in property taxes. Currently that is not the case in Calgary.
- Designation means you get money to restore/renovate the property. Partially true. Having a designation means that you have the ability to apply for funding from the City and the Province to help defray the cost of restoring and preserving the elements of the property that are detailed in the designation. The funding is not intended for things like redecorating, upgrading kitchen appliances or remodelling, and there are some very specific conditions:
- Funding must be applied for and approved. It’s not like there is a bank account that you can just draw from to do projects, you need to apply for the funding and document how it’s in support of preserving / restoring the specific elements covered in the designation.
- Funding only pays up to 50% of the incurred costs. The property owner is responsible for paying for the work up front and then applying to receive a refund for a portion of the costs.
- Funding is based on availability. There is a finite amount of funding available for distribution among many projects, so nothing is guaranteed, but our experience has been that the people working for the programmes are extremely helpful..
- “I don’t think that house looks historic, why should it get all this attention?”. Obviously there are many opinions out there in terms of what “historic” means, and because it’s the property owners who are the ones who have to agree to move forward with the process, some people think that it’s the property owners who are the ones that have decided it’s historic and worth designation. As we discussed in Part 1, throughout the designation process, outside parties are the ones who do the documentation and determination if a property has historic value, and to what extent. At the point at which the formal designation is applied for, a ton of work has been carried out to support that application, and really the main decision the property owner, armed with all the information, has to make is whether or not they wish to proceed.
That covers most of the questions we’ve been asked over the years, in Part 3 of the Designation Notes, we will describe the actual process that we went through, and some thoughts on what to consider if you are in the position of designating as well.