Local Historic Preservation Ad Valorem Tax Exemption Programs

Owners of historic buildings in Florida considering rehabilitating their property have a variety of programs to choose from. In 1992, the Florida state constitution was amended to allow local governments the option of offering ad valorem tax exemptions on improvements to historic properties. The purpose of providing this exemption was to stimulate revitalization of historic properties and to ease the burden of maintaining these properties. This tax exemption program is available throughout Hillsborough County. Rehabilitation projects in the City of Tampa and the City of Plant City may also qualify for additional exemptions from city taxes.

Properties that qualify for the exemption from the county-wide tax are those designated as local landmarks, those listed on the National Register of Historic Places, or as contributing properties in a local or National Register historic district. In the City of Tampa and the City of Plant City, only locally designated landmarks and contributing structures within locally designated historic districts are considered eligible properties for exemption from city ad valorem taxes.

All applications for this tax exemption are reviewed by the appropriate local reviewing entity. These are the Barrio Latino Commission (BLC) for properties located within the Ybor City Historic District, the Tampa Architectural Review Commission (ARC) for all other qualifying historic properties located within the City of Tampa, the Plant City Historic Review Board (HRB) for historic properties located in the City of Plant City, and the Hillsborough County Historic Resources Review Board (HRRB) for historic properties located in unincorporated Hillsborough County.

Residential and non-residential properties may apply for this program. Improvements must be consistent with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and meet criteria set by the Department of State (Chapter 1A- 38, Florida Administrative Code). A determination that the project is in conformance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation must be made by the local reviewing entity. It is recommended (and required for properties in the City of Plant City) that Parts I (Evaluation of Property Eligibility) and II (Description of Improvements) of the application, with required documentation, be completed and submitted for review before the project is begun. Failure to obtain project approval prior to the initiation of construction leaves the owner at risk of failing to comply with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards.

Part III (Request for Review of Completed Work) is to be submitted upon completion of the improvements. Prior to the review process, the property owner must complete a protective covenant stating that the character of the property and the qualifying improvements to the property will be maintained during the exemption period.

The local reviewing entity then makes its recommendation to the appropriate local governing body(ies), which may approve the exemption by ordinance. The local governing bodies are the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners, the Tampa City Council, and the City Commission of the City of Plant City.

The exemption is for 100% of the increase in the assessed value of the improvements to the historic structure that results from rehabilitation. The exemption takes effect on January 1 of the year following the substantial completion of the improvements and is applicable for a 10-year period. It applies only to improvements to real property. When the property is sold, the exemption passes to the new owner.

Eastern Hillsborough County Post Office Towns

On July 22, 2008, the Board of County Commissioners designated the Knowles House, a two-story, symmetrical Frame Vernacular-style house, as a historic Landmark. The circa 1915 Knowles House was constructed from local heart pine timber by Robert H. Knowles. This house is clad in clapboard siding and is topped by a pyramidal hipped roof. A hipped roof also covers the screened main entrance porch, which wraps around the south and west sides of the building. Vernacular houses with square plans were commonly built with pyramidal roofs during the early decades of the 20th century. These roofs required more complex framing, but were less expensive to build since they needed fewer long-spanning rafters. Through the use of the heart pine timber and the incorporation of a sleeping porch and a wraparound porch in the design, the Knowles House exhibits construction materials and design adaptive to the Florida environment.

Robert’s father, Henry Marion Knowles, was appointed “Postmaster at Oaklawn, in the County of Hillsboro, State of Florida” by the Postmaster General of the United States of America on June 10, 1902. In 1908, the post office was renamed after the Knowles family. When Henry died in 1910, his son Robert H. Knowles, one of eight children, took over the Postmaster position. The Knowles post office closed on June 15, 1915, and the postal service was moved to the nearby Valrico post office. Knowles appeared on a 1917 map from Mawson’s Geographic Manual and New Atlas and on a 1920 U.S. Railroad Administration map.

The Knowles post office was one of many in Hillsborough County that is no longer extant. One of the earliest post offices in the County was the Alafia office, established in 1855. The Alafia community was initially settled through the Armed Occupation Act of 1842. Fort Alafia, a garrison and supply depot, was established in 1849, and the army constructed a crude road from Fort Alafia to Fort Brooke, contributing to the growth of the community. Fort Alafia was closed by 1859, but the community continued to grow, in part due to the lumber industry. The Alafia post office was discontinued and reestablished several times until 1920, the same year that Alafia’s Warnell Lumber and Veneering Company closed, and the mail finally was routed to Durant.

In eastern Hillsborough County, one of the most enduring communities has been Brandon. The Brandon post office was established in 1890, with Victoria M. Brandon as the first postmaster. It owes its success in part to its proximity to the railroad. Other communities along rail lines also prospered, at least for some period of time. The last part of the nineteenth century saw a boom in railroad construction in Florida, and with it, a population surge. Between 1880 and 1886, 1,200 miles of railroad track were laid in Florida. In 1880, Florida’s population of approximately 270,000 resided predominantly north of the Tampa Bay area. By 1890, the rail lines extended south of Charlotte Harbor and Jupiter Inlet.

In 1883, Henry B. Plant connected the South Florida Railroad from Lakeland to Port Tampa. Post offices at Mango, (est. 1880), Seffner (est. 1884), Sparkman (est. 1884), and Sydney (est. 1882) were located along this rail line. Mango and Seffner remain identifiable communities today. The Sydney office was renamed “Cork” in 1884, and its name was changed again to Dover in 1890. The 1891 plat of Dover centered on the rail corridor, and the community rapidly became known as a shipping hub for nearby farms.

Another community in eastern Hillsborough County to change its name early in its existence was Fish Hawk. The Fish Hawk post office was established in February 1902, with Sarah T. Boyett as the postmaster. Two months later, Fish Hawk was renamed after the postmaster’s husband, Thomas Boyett.

The Florida Central & Peninsular system completed its rail line from Plant City to Tampa in 1890. This line ran south of the South Florida Railroad, through the communities of Turkey Creek, Sidney, Valrico, Brandon, and Limona. Of these communities, Limona was the earliest with a post office, established 1878. The post offices at Sidney, Valrico, and Brandon were established in the same year that the Florida Central & Peninsular rail came through, and the Turkey Creek office was established two years later. Other communities in eastern Hillsborough County, like Keysville, Hopewell, Lillibridge, and Welcome, prospered along the rail lines built to serve the lumber, timber, and phosphate industries.

Communities large enough to require a post office also sprang up along the rivers, which provided a transportation network well before the arrival of the railroad. A post office was established at Peru, on the south bank of the Alafia River, in 1879. Peru experienced substantial growth when phosphates were discovered along the river and the Peruvian Phosphate Company built a plant on the north side of the river. However, river mining proved to be less lucrative than land mining of phosphate. The post office was shut in 1900, and the mail was routed through the Riverview office, which had been established in 1891. Riverview thrived, mainly because of the lack of a bridge across the Alafia River to Peru. A bridge was constructed in 1901, and by the 1920s Riverview had expanded to both sides of the river and consumed Peru.

Article by Elaine Lund