Housing preservation law could be windfall for mansion owners

The owners of a notable Queen Anne mansion might save thousands of dollars in property taxes if the restored 1895 three-story building becomes the second historic structure in The City to receive economic incentives under a preservation law.

The John Spencer House, on Haight Street between Broderick and Baker streets, received an extensive $1.8 million renovation starting in 2001 in an effort to restore it to its late-19th-century grandeur.

The mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the California Register of Historical Resources.

The five-year labor of love resulted in the mansion receiving all the modern fixtures, such as solar panels, while retaining its historic essence, according to Bill Beutner of the San Francisco Architectural Heritage.

“The grande dame has been rescued,” Beutner said.

The Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board is today scheduled to consider whether The City should enter into a 10-year maintenance agreement with the mansion’s owners, which would give them a tax break of nearly 40 percent.

The mansion is scheduled to return to a bed-and-breakfast in roughly a year, said Christopher Yerke, who worked to restore the structure.

The so-called Mills Act was passed by the state in 1976 and taken up in San Francisco in 1996. It is considered the state’s most substantive economic incentive program for owners of historic buildings.

Under the proposal, which requires approval from the Board of Supervisors, the owners, Fillmore Management Company, would enter into a 10-year agreement with The City to preserve the building in accordance with certain historical standards in exchange for lopping off $17,000 from the $44,000 annual tax bill.

The annual cost of maintenance for the John Spencer House is about $200,000, city planner Mark Luellen said.

Only one other building in The City has been designated under the Mills Act, Luellen said — the 1908 firehouse at 460 Bush St.

The City, in an effort to increase the number of Mills Act buildings, has expanded the criteria by which a building can be designated. More than 1,970 structures are now eligible for the tax bill reductions.

The maximum amount of money the assessor’s office can stand to lose in parcel tax revenue each year is still being negotiated, Luellen said.

mcarroll@examiner.com

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