Property owners can’t be forced to preserve their historic buildings – but those who opt to take advantage of an official “historic” designation can’t easily back out later.
That’s the version of a proposed historic preservation ordinance that cleared the Santa Clarita Planning Commission on a 5-0 vote Tuesday.
Commissioners were asked to consider a staff recommendation to replace the city’s existing preservation ordinance, adopted by the City Council three years ago to prevent the demolition of four dozen specific properties in Newhall.
The replacement ordinance would cover no specific buildings, and would leave it entirely up to the property owner to decide whether to declare a property historic.
Under the staff proposal, if a property owner who “opted in” later wanted to “opt out,” he could do so after a one-year cooling off period.
With support from several property owners and opposition from members of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, the commission agreed to the “opt-in” clause and decided to remove all references to specific buildings.
However, commissioners said the proposal was too lenient if property owners were allowed to take advantage of the tax breaks and fee waivers provided under the ordinance, and decide later to forgo the designation.
“It needs to be a lot more difficult (to opt out) if it’s going to be meaningful,” Commissioner Dennis Ostrom said.
Tim Crissman and Frank Maga, who own commercial buildings slated to come off the existing list with the adoption of a new ordinance, suggested that property owners who decide to “opt in” should have to reimburse the city for any incentives they’ve received if they decide later to opt out.
“It ought to be difficult to get off the list” once a property owner has declared his building historic, Commissioner Bill Kennedy said.
Commissioner Lisa Eichman questioned whether the proposed incentives were sufficient to entice property owners to designate their homes or businesses as historic.
“It doesn’t seem there are enough incentives for people to wan t to opt in,” she said.
Ed Marg, a historical society board member, said the city should help property owners apply for state or federal historic status because there are numerous grant funds available to support the preservation of properties with the higher level of listing.
SCV Historical Society President Alan Pollack said by removing all properties from the historic-designation list, “the ordinance as currently proposed would be an almost meaningless endeavor.”
“The reality would be an ordinance which includes no buildings except those already protected at Heritage Junction, and essentially brings back the freedom to destroy historically significant buildings,” Pollack said.
The commission ultimately approved a motion by Kennedy that effectively removed the “opt out after opting in” clause by resurrecting language from a previous draft of the ordinance letting property owners off the hook only if they could prove true financial hardship. Kennedy’s motion also stipulated that if the commission agrees a hardship exists, the property owner must reimburse to the city all monetary gains he has received while under the historic designation.
The proposed ordinance now goes to the City Council for its consideration.