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The Historic Resources component of the General Plan confirms the City’s commitment to the protection, enhancement, perpetuation, and use of historic resources as economic, cultural, and aesthetic benefits to the City of San Mateo.



The goal of historic preservation is to keep properties and places of historic and cultural value in active use, accommodating appropriate improvements to sustain their viability while maintaining the key character-defining features which contribute to their significance as cultural resources. Preservation also seeks to keep cultural resources intact for the benefit of future generations. It is an integral component of other community initiatives in neighborhood livability, sustainability, economic development, and cultural appreciation.



GOAL CD-3.1 Identify and preserve historic, architectural and cultural resources, including individual properties, districts and sites, to maintain San Mateo’s sense of place and special identity, and to enrich our understanding of the city’s history and continuity with the past.


GOAL CD-3.2 Use historic preservation principles as an equal component in the planning and development process. Fully integrate the consideration of historic, architectural and cultural resources as a major aspect of the City's planning, permitting and development activities.


GOAL CD-3.3 Ensure compatibility between new development and existing historic, architectural and cultural resources.



Character (Community): Community character refers to the distinct identity of a place. It is the collective impression a neighborhood or town makes on residents and visitors.


Character (Historic): The character of a building, district or neighborhood refers to all those visual aspects and physical features that comprise the appearance of every historic building. Character-defining elements include the overall shape of the building, its materials, craftsmanship, decorative details, interior spaces and features, as well as the various aspects of its site and environment. (National Park Service, Preservation Brief 17: 1).


Compatible: In harmony with location, context, setting, and historic character.


Contributing Resource.  Any building, object, or structure which adds to the historical integrity or architectural qualities that make an historic district significant.

Historic Contexts: Provide the foundation for preservation planning. Contexts typically are based on one or more themes, a geographical area, and periods of significance. They describe the broad patterns of historical development of a community or region that are represented by the physical development and character of the built environment. They also identify important associated property types, and establish eligibility criteria and integrity thresholds. Context-based surveys make it possible to evaluate resources for land use planning purposes without needing to research each individual property. An initial context statement should be developed during the early stages of survey planning in order to utilize cost-effective survey methods that will result in the identification of significant resources. More developed contexts may be developed in conjunction with an ongoing survey or as a separate activity.  (CA Office of Historic Preservation).

Historic District: An identifiable area with definable boundaries designated as a “Historic District” and in which a significant number of the properties, structures, sites or objects have a high degree of historic, cultural, architectural or archaeological significance and integrity.


Historic Preservation: According to the National Historic Preservation Act, includes identification, evaluation, recordation, documentation, curation, acquisition, protection, management, rehabilitation, restoration, stabilization, maintenance, research, interpretation, conservation, and education and training regarding the foregoing activities or a combination of the foregoing activities.


Historic Resource. A district, landscape, object, sign, site, or structure significant in American archeology, architecture, culture, engineering, or history that is either designated or eligible for designation under city, state, or national criteria.

Historic Resource Surveys: Identify, record, and evaluate historic properties within a community, neighborhood, project area, or region. Surveys provide information needed to make informed planning decisions, prioritize preservation goals and objectives, develop and implement land use policies, perform environmental reviews pursuant to CEQA, develop adaptive reuse and heritage tourism initiatives, educate the public and increase the understanding of and appreciation for the built environment as a tangible reminder of the community’s history. Surveys also assist in the identification of resources worthy of designation in a local register of historic resources, the California Register of Historical Resources, or the National Register of Historic Places, as well as properties potentially eligible for federal tax benefits or other state and local preservation incentives. (CA Office of Historic Preservation).


Historic Significance: Determines why, where, and when a property is important. Historic significance is the importance of a property with regard to history, architecture, engineering, or the culture of a state, community, or nation. Integrity: Adherence to a high level of historical, architectural accuracy and relatively unchanged since originally constructed. The Secretary of Interior recognizes a property’s integrity through seven aspects or qualities: location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association.

Scale: A term used to define the proportions of a building in relation to its surroundings or the proportional elements that demonstrate the size, materials and style of buildings.


Policy CD-P3.1 Historic Preservation. Identify and preserve historic buildings, districts and sites, unless proven not feasible.


Policy CD-P3.2 Demolition. The City shall consider demolition of historic resources as a last resort, to be permitted only if rehabilitation of the resource is not feasible, demolition is necessary to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its residents, or the public benefits outweigh the loss of the historic resource.


Policy CD-P3.3 Historic Districts. Actively identify and protect concentrations of buildings which convey the flavor of local historical periods or provide an atmosphere of exceptional architectural interest or integrity, when they meet national, state or local criteria.


Policy CD-P3.4 Downtown Historic District. Maintain the identified historic district along portions of 3rd Avenue and B Street, and continue to implement regulations to protect the overall historic and architectural character and integrity of the area. 


Policy CD-P3.5 Scale, Character and Compatibility. Promote an architecturally sensitive approach to new construction in and adjacent to historic districts to ensure compatibility of new and old. Demonstrate the proposed project’s contextual relationship with land uses and patterns, spatial organization, visual relationships, cultural and historic values, and relationships in height, massing, modulation, and materials.


Policy CD-P3.6 Downtown Building Heights. Relate the height of new buildings to the pattern of downtown and to the character of existing and proposed development. New development shall be encouraged to step down towards some existing buildings in order to be compatible with the pattern of Downtown.


Policy CD-P3.7 Historic Surveys and Context Statements. For areas that have not been surveyed, the City shall seek funding to prepare new historic context surveys. In these surveys, the potential eligibility of all properties 45 years and older for listing in National, California or local registers shall be evaluated.


Policy CD-P3.8 Historic Structure Renovation, Rehabilitation, and Adaptive Reuse. Promote the renovation and rehabilitation of historic structures that conforms to the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Structures and the California Historical Building Code and prioritize historic structures for available rehabilitation funds.


Policy CD-P3.9 Public Awareness. Foster public awareness and appreciation of the City's historic, architectural, cultural and archaeological resources and educate the community about how to preserve and improve these resources.


Policy CD-P3.10 Historic Preservation Funding. Pursue and promote historic preservation funding sources to incentivize the protection of historic resources such as the California Mills Act Property Tax Abatement Program and Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives Program.


Policy CD-P3.11 Encourage both public and private stewardship of the City's historic and cultural resources.




Action CD-A3.1 Incorporate preservation as an integral part of the general plan, specific plans, environmental processes, planning, zoning, permitting, and development activities.


Action CD-A3.2 Historic Resources Survey. Establish and maintain an inventory of architecturally, culturally, and historically significant structures, districts and sites. Proactively update and maintain an up-to-date historic resources inventory.  Actively seek funding opportunities to update the historic survey.


Action CD-A3.3 Historic Preservation Ordinance. Update and maintain the City’s Historic Preservation Ordinance to be consistent with State and Federal standards and guidelines, and to support local historic preservation objectives.  Develop and incorporate zoning tools such as Historic Preservation Overlay Zones (HPOZs) and conservation districts.

Action CD-A3.4 Historic Design Standards. Create objective design standards for development within commercial and residential historic districts and adjacent properties that ensures design compatibility and maintains the historic character of these resources. Revise the Downtown and Historic District Design Standards to give consideration to new development within a historic preservation context.


Action CD-A3.5 Demolition Alternatives. Require an applicant to submit alternatives to full demolition on how to preserve a historic building as part of any planning application and implement methods of preservation unless health and safety requirements cannot be met.


Action CD-A3.6 Encourage and assist owners of historically significant buildings in finding ways to adapt and rehabilitate these buildings, including participation in state and federal tax relief programs.


Action CD-A3.7 Streamline, to the maximum extent feasible, any future processes for design review of historic structures to eliminate unnecessary delay and uncertainty for the applicant and to encourage historic preservation.


Action CD-A3.8 Preservation Incentives. Create incentives to preserve historic and cultural resources such as reducing parking requirements, allowing a flexible use, or establishing a transfer of development rights program.


Action CD-A3.9 Create incentives to encourage salvage and reuse of discarded historic building materials.

SMHA 8/9/22 (Revised 8/23/22)

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