30 November 2005

Berkeley mayor proposes solution
to ‘Landmark’ debate

Martin Snapp
Contra Costa Times
Posted on Wed, Nov. 30, 2005

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates unveiled a compromise proposal on Tuesday to resolve the ongoing impasse between two city commissions over Berkeley’s Landmarks Preservation Ordinance.

The Planning Commission and the Landmarks Preservation Commission had been at loggerheads over the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s use of the “structure of merit” designation for buildings that fail to rise to the level of landmarks. Bates said the “structure of merit” designation had become “virtually indistinguishable” from landmark status.

As a result, non-landmark structures have been afforded protections that were not intended when the ordinance was originally drafted, including an environmental review and public hearing before any changes could be made to the building.

Under the mayor’s plan, future “structure of merit” designations will be limited to those historic districts where the need to protect structures that contribute to the overall historic character of the area has been clearly established. Buildings that have already been designated structures of merit will be allowed to keep the designation.

A lesser designation called “points of interests” will be created for lesser buildings that still have some historic or cultural importance. This designation will be strictly honorary.

The mayor also proposed a systematic historic survey of the city, starting with downtown, followed by West Berkeley, the oldest part of town.

Then will come the major commercial corridors, including University, San Pablo, Shattuck, Adeline, Telegraph, Solano and the Elmwood.

In addition, he proposed hiring a historic preservation officer to serve as staff for the LPC and liaison with the Planning Commission.

Finally, the mayor’s proposal sets up a timeline for the appeals process, which has dragged on in the past. From now on, the Landmarks Preservation Commission will have two weeks to make an up-or-down decision about a structure’s “landmark” or “structure of merit” status. If it fails to make a designation in that period, it will be barred from changing its mind for two years.

The proposal will now go to a City Council workshop to hash out the details, followed by a public hearing and a formal vote in January.


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