Historic Designations: What’s the Difference?

Austin’s historic buildings are tangible links to the city’s past and cultural development.  There are a number of programs that recognize the importance of these properties and provide incentives to maintain and rehabilitate them.  The following programs are some common designations of historic buildings and districts in Austin.

National Register of Historic Places

Who, What

  • The National Register of Historic Places (NR) is the nation’s list of important historic properties.
  • The National Park Service is in charge of maintaining the list. NR nominations prepared by individuals, cultural resource management firms, or organizations are first sent to the Texas Historical Commission (THC) for review and approval, then are forwarded on to the federal level for final review and listing.
  • Buildings can be listed in the NR individually or as a part of a historic district. 
  • Austin has eighteen NR historic districts and many individually listed properties.

How

The City of Austin’s Historic Landmark Commission (HLC) reviews permits for contributing buildings in NR historic districts on an advisory basis. The following permits undergo review:

  • Building (for exterior changes to contributing buildings and new construction on any property)
  • Demolition (partial and total)
  • Relocation

Permit applications for minor changes may be administratively released by Historic Preservation Office staff. If a building is non-contributing and 40 or more years old, proposed exterior changes, demolition, or relocation will be reviewed by the Historic Preservation Office and may be referred to the HLC.

Why

Buildings listed in the NR are eligible for:

  • Federal tax credits for rehabilitation, if a building is income-producing.
  • State tax credits for rehabilitation for income-producing properties or nonprofit-owned properties.

Recorded Texas Historic Landmark

Who, What

  • Recorded Texas Historic Landmarks (RTHLs) are recognized by the Texas Historical Commission (THC) as those buildings worthy of preservation statewide.
  • Individual buildings may become RTHLs. Most RTHLs are marked with a medallion and historical subject marker.
  • Austin has 170 RTHLs.

How

The THC reviews and approves activities proposed for an RTHL:

  • Remodeling
  • Additions
  • Relocation
  • Demolition

Why

RTHL-designated buildings are eligible for:

  • State tax credits for rehabilitation for income-producing properties or nonprofit-owned properties.
  • State historic preservation grants from the Texas Preservation Trust Fund.

City of Austin Historic Landmarks

Who, What

  • This zoning layer is designated by City Council, after approval by the Historic Landmark Commission (HLC) and Planning Commission.
  • Can be individual buildings, sites, cemeteries, or ruins.
  • Owners are expected to maintain their landmark property.
  • Austin has over 600 individual landmarks.

How

The HLC reviews and approves changes to:

  • Exterior
  • Site

All work must receive a Certificate of Appropriateness prior to receiving a building permit.

Why

  • City of Austin Historic Landmarks are eligible for a local property tax exemption.
  • Local historic zoning offers the best protection against demolition, since the HLC maintains demolition review over these properties .

City of Austin Historic Districts

Who, What

  • This zoning layer is designated by City Council, after approval by the Historic Landmark Commission (HLC) and Planning Commission.
  • Districts include contiguous groups of buildings, sites and parks.
  • The City of Austin has four local historic districts.

How

The HLC reviews and approves permits for:

  • Building
  • Demolition
  • Relocation

All work must receive a Certificate of Appropriateness prior to receiving a building permit.

Why

  • City of Austin Historic Districts are eligible for local property tax abatement after rehabilitation.
  • Local historic zoning offers the best protection against demolition, since the HLC maintains demolition review over these properties.

More Resources

"National, State, and Local Historic Markers" from the Preservation Austin Blog

City of Austin Historic Preservation Office (contacts, forms, resources):
www.austintexas.gov/department/historic-preservation

Historic Designations in Texas (Recorded Texas Historic Landmarks, State Antiquities Landmarks):
www.thc.texas.gov/preserve/projects-and-programs/national-register-historic-places/historic-designations-texas

National Register of Historic Places (what does it mean to be listed, process of listing):
www.nps.gov/nr/national_register_fundamentals.htm