Draft Preservation Ordinance gets once-over at fifth hearing

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The end of the Planning Commission’s marathon hearings on the draft Preservation Ordinance may be in sight.

Commissioners listened to 30 speakers, most of them opposed to latest version of the ordinance for one reason or another, and then perused the 12-page draft and made requests. They asked that clarification be added to some sections, corrected punctuation and reiterated their support for a 70-year-threshold for historic evaluation, preparing to recommend approval to the City Council on Oct 18.

“There are so many issues,” said Commissioner Anne Johnson. “Of all the projects since I have been on the commission, this is the most study I have put in.”

The commission also recommended changing the classification of historic structures from C, K and E to the numerical ratings used by the Secretary of the Interior.

C-rating, henceforth to be known as L-6, is the lowest category for properties that are considered historic. The commission voted to eliminate the category except for properties already on the Historic Register at the owner’s request, and to abandon the Historic Inventory on which homes were included without the consent of the property owners. 

State law does not define C-rated structures as historic resources

State law does not consider C-rated structures to be historic resources and the California Environmental Quality Act does not define them as such.

Alterations in the structures will be subject to evaluation by the director of the Development Department and possibly subsequent design review. 

In a well-orchestrated presentation, opponents of the designation of homes as historic without the owner’s consent hammered on “voluntary participation” in city documents. The documents shown in a Power Point presentation dated back to 1982, when the City Council first recognized the Historic Resources Inventory. 

The presentation concluded with the 1992 statement by Heritage Committee Chair Stephen Crawford that “participation in the City’s Historic Preservation Program is completely voluntary.”

Proponents of a city-wide inventory were equally prepared.

“Abandoning the inventory may be an attempt to address the concerns of property owners who object to having their houses on it, but doing so would change their status only to make it more uncertain,” said Barbara Metzger, former commissioner and Design Review Board member. 

Metzger said undoing the 1982 resolution, even if possible, would be a violation of the General Plan and would require amending the Historic Resources and Land Use Elements of the Plan. 

“A better solution to the problems these property owners point to would be to create a truly updated inventory – one that includes all of the city’s potential historic resources – and to develop a set of guidelines that would make alterations to C-rated structures less onerous than adherence to the Secretary of the Interior standards,” Metzger said.

“A failure to communicate”

Commissioner Roger McErlane said the commission is obliged by the General Plan to implement the ordinance, although the ordinance is not required by the state. 

“Inventory or no inventory, we end up in the same place,” McErlane said. “A house is historic or it’s not.”

An off-hand remark about eliminating the ordinance altogether drew applause.

What we had at the hearing “was a failure to communicate,” according to members of the audience.

“The complete absence of dialogue throughout these recent hearings has created an untenable situation,” said Becky Jones, a former Planning Commissioner. 

Jones said the original intent of updating the ordinance has been lost the process, including making life easier for owners of historic properties by adopting more flexible standards and more extensive incentives rather than to expand the city’s control.

“This lack of dialogue has pitted us against one another rather than enabling us to work together to find equitable solution,” said Jones. “What a lost opportunity and how sad.” 

The full text of the draft is available for review on the city web site LagunaBeachCity.Net

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