How to Navigate San Francisco's Historic Resource Assessment (HRA)

Nicholas Pounder

Posted by Nicholas Pounder

The City of San Francisco is filled with beautiful, historic architecture and they conserve the buildings by categorizing them. In theory, this is a great resolution to organize and preserve buildings, but in reality it causes confusion and gray areas. In January 2019, the City of San Francisco presented the Historic Resource Assessment Program (HRA), a pilot program to provide some clarity for building owners.

What is the HRA Program?
The HRA was established earlier this year to dissolve category B (explained below) and help clarify a building as historic or not.The pilot program’s goal is to assist both the Department and public in measuring the efficacy of the new process and identifying appropriate staffing levels and application fees for the process going forward.

Categorize It!
Any building will fall under one of the three categories:

A - National Register of Historic Places(NR) and/or California Register of Historical Resources(CR)

B - Unknown Historical Resource Status or

C - No Historical Resources

jack-finnigan-539853-unsplashPhoto by Jack Finnigan on Unsplash
When a building is surveyed and categorized as A or C, the owner has clarity on what process they will have to follow if planning to renovate or modify. When a building is categorized as B, it means there is not enough information provided to identify the building as Historical or not. This second category can cause delays or even cancel projects altogether due to the ambiguity and time consumption to clarify the status sometimes causing developers thousands of dollars.

Does My Property Qualify for this Program?
If a property is over 50 years old, there is a possibility that it holds architectural or historical significance which means it may be considered an A category building. The ambiguity can be resolved by seeking the help of a Historical Preservation Technical Specialist - who can clarify whether it’s worth going through the process. Additionally, you can search by address or business name in the San Francisco’s Symbium Zoning Site to determine your basic zoning district and if it’s in a special use district, which will provide you a great starting point.  

The HRA Process
The Historic Resources Assessment Program (HRA) is only applicable for those who’s buildings are under category B. If you know your building is or is NOT a historic resource (Category A or C) you do not need to go through the program. The program will go through a minimum of a 60-day response time and before submitting, it’s important to gather all required documentation prior to submitting the application. If the city finds documents missing, they will restart the 60-day review period.

What You’ll Need

  • One completed and signed application.
  • All property history documentation, including copies of building permits and drawings, historic maps, and articles (if available).
  • Current photograph(s) of the subject property,adjacent properties, and the surrounding block faces.
  • A Letter of Authorization from the owner(s) designating an Authorized Agent to communicate with the Planning Department on their behalf, if applicable.
  • Payment via check, money order or debit/credit card for the total fee amount. You can calculate your fee amount here.
  • You’ll submit your application and documentation to

hubert-mousseigne-661359-unsplashBeen There, Done That
Burnham Nationwide has completed the HRA process with clients and understands how most efficiently and correctly sort the B category ‘gray zone’ into black and white so you can focus on the important details and planning of your project. We feel it’s important that you understand the process as much as we do even though we are here to take care of all of the details. If you would like to discuss how Burnham can expedite your HRA Process, contact us and let’s simply get it done, together.

Below are the public resources that will help you get the detailed information required for the  HRA Application if you prefer preparing and researching your own project. Thoroughly researching and gathering this information will help avoid restarting the 60-day review process and make your process smoother for you and your project team.

San Francisco Office

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