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Planning and Community Development Department

  • Design & Historic Preservation

  • Historic Properties - Incentives and Special Provisions

    For more information, contact the Design & Historic Preservation Section.

    Pasadena is widely known for its rich collection of historic properties. In all areas of the City, architecturally distinguished buildings impart an attractive character to residential neighborhoods and to business districts. These historic resources are also tangible reminders of the eventful history of the City. They are a source of civic pride and of economic productivity, drawing residents, tourists, shoppers, and businesses.

    Since 1969 the City has formally recognized the benefits of preserving its historic sites and structures. It has a cultural heritage ordinance, two commissions entrusted with protecting historic resources, and a program within its Planning and Development Department to support historic preservation. The City has also designated forty-seven sites and structures as landmarks and six areas as historic districts. In addition, over 1,000 properties in Pasadena are listed in the National Register of Historic Places (either individually or as part of districts).

    The City offers several incentives and special provisions to promote the preservation of historic sites and structures. In many cases, these incentives are available only if a building has been designated as a landmark or if it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (either individually or as part of a district). Some incentives, however, are available to all historic properties, designated or eligible for designation. Planning staff in the Design & Historic Preservation Section can identify which incentives, if any, may apply to your property. They can also explain the process of designating a building as a landmark or of nominating it to the National Register.

    1. Mills Act Historic Contract Property Program  
    2. State Historical Building Code (SHBC) 
    3. Rehabilitation Tax Credit 
    4. Facade Easements 
    5. Technical Assistance
    6. Zoning 
    7. Historic Sign Inventory 
    8. Additional Information 


    Mills Act Historic Property Contract Program

    The City of Pasadena Historic Property Contract Program was established in October 2002 under the authority of a State program known as the Mills Act. This program allows owners of designated historic properties to enter into a contract with the City to reduce their property taxes in exchange for agreeing to maintain the historic character of their property in accordance with established guidelines. Eligible properties are officially designated landmarks, historic monuments, buildings designed by architects Greene and Greene, properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and contributing properties in a landmark or National Register district. Past participants have saved between 20% and 75% on their property taxes, with an average savings around 50%. Click the following link to review or download the "Mills Act Program guidelines and application.“


    State Historical Building Code (SHBC)

    This State-adopted building code allows the City to approve reasonable alternatives to standard building and mechanical requirements for historic buildings (see SHBC ). This code allows some non-conforming conditions to remain without modification to meet current standards, and it allows some pliancy in meeting specific requirements in building codes. The City uses the SHBC at the request of the property owner. City staff in the Building Division and Design & Historic Preservation Section is available to assist property owners, architects, and contractors with this code. The SHBC applies to both the interior and exterior of a building.


    Rehabilitation Tax Credit

    A 20% credit on federal income taxes is available for the cost to rehabilitate a property listed in the National Register of Historic Places. To qualify for the tax credit, the property must be income-producing, and the rehabilitation work must be certified by the National Park Service as complying with historic preservation standards. The State of California Office of Historic Preservation preliminarily reviews applications for the rehabilitation tax credit. The credit is usually not available to owners of buildings eligible for the National Register but not actually listed in the Register (but the credit may be applied to work that occurred prior to listing of a building in the Register).


    Facade Easements

    A charitable tax deduction for donating a facade easement to a nonprofit, publicly supported organization (such as Pasadena Heritage) is available only to owners of buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In exchange for a charitable deduction on federal income taxes, the property owner authorizes the nonprofit organization to review exterior alterations to the building. The nonprofit entity thereby assumes responsibility for protecting the historic and architectural integrity of the property.


    Technical Assistance

    The staff of the Design & Historic Preservation Section is available to meet with property owners, architects, and contractors to offer advice and guidance (including use of the SHBC). Offered free-of-charge, this service may offer helpful suggestions on such things as seismic bracing, non-abrasive removal of paint from masonry, sources for replacement of missing historic features on a building, use of the State Historical Building Code, and applications for the rehabilitation tax credit. The staff also has a large collection of technical literature and hand-outs to offer guidance with the rehabilitation of a historic property. When requested, Design & Historic Preservation staff can also research historical information about a property.



    The municipal zoning code has provisions to promote the preservation of historic structures. The City’s comprehensive General Plan also directs the City to implement flexible zoning regulations to promote the preservation of historic properties. To determine if any of these provisions apply to a historic building, ask the City staff in the Current Planning Section, (626) 744-4152, also in the Permit Center.

    Special provisions in the zoning code include:

    Within certain areas zoned for multifamily residences, the code conditionally allows business or professional offices (uses that would otherwise be non-conforming) if the building is a designated landmark or if it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. This provision encourages the adaptive re-use of designated historic resources by permitting an additional use within some areas otherwise zoned solely for residential uses. A conditional use permit (CUP) is required to allow the non-conforming use for professional offices. Also, within the South Marengo Avenue overlay district (PD-8), business and professional offices are conditionally permitted in buildings over 50 years old which retain their architectural integrity, whether they are designated or undesignated.

    Owners of properties within designated landmark districts may also qualify for a waiver of the zoning requirement for two-covered parking spaces (a standard requirement for additions to single-family houses). The purpose for this waiver is to allow early garage structures, which form an ensemble with historic dwellings, to remain as part of the landmark district.

    New multifamily residential projects may qualify for a waiver of some development standards as part of the City of Gardens ordinance for multi-family construction. Among the standards that may be modified are the size of the main garden, the amount of required parking, and the modulation of exterior walls. To qualify for this incentive, projects must include the rehabilitation or adaptive re-use of a historic property. This provision encourages the rehabilitation of historic structures on the site of new residential development as an alternative to demolition or relocation.

    The code also allows some buildings with insufficient on-site parking to remain exempt from current parking requirements, even when they are rehabilitated or placed in a different use. If, however, the new use has a greater demand for parking than the former use (e.g., a change from offices to a restaurant), the parking must meet current standards. Nonetheless, this provision may facilitate the adaptive re-use of a vacant historic property by waiving the need to apply for a variance or to acquire additional off-site locations for parking.

    Within the zoning code, one justification for approving the reclassification of properties as a planned development (PD) district is the adaptive re-use of historic buildings. The code allows historic buildings within a PD to be used "imaginatively for purposes other than that for which they were originally intended." This provision facilitates the adaptive re-use of historic resources and encourages their long-term preservation on large sites designated for new development.


    Historic Sign Inventory

    Signs listed by the Historic Preservation Commission in the City’s Historic Sign Inventory are exempted from the sign regulations (height, area, location) in the zoning code. The exemption applies only if the sign is maintained and operated as originally designed. Minor changes to these signs are permitted to encourage new owners of a business to continue use of the historic sign. The Historic Preservation Commission may list a sign in the inventory if it determines that the sign was installed prior to 1960 and that the sign is "exemplary of the technology, craftsmanship, or design of the period when it was constructed."


    Additional Information

    Further information about these incentives and provisions for historic buildings as well as all matters related to development processing are available at the City's Permit Center or contact the Design & Historic Preservation Section.

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