06 March 2006

Mayor’s final recommendations on the LPO

Would Weltevreden qualify as a Structure of Merit under the new rules?

On Friday, 3 March, Mayor Tom Bates released a memo containing his final recommendations for revisions to the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance.

These recommendations will be presented to the City Council tomorrow. The Mayor proposes that the Council charge staff to prepare new ordinance language that would adopt the changes included in his memo, to provide the draft language to the LPC and the Planning Commission by 1 May, and to set the revisions for a public hearing on 11 July.

One of the two most controversial issues in the previous round of recommendations has been the Structure of Merit category, which the Planning Commisison and some development advocates have sought to reduce to an honorary status with no CEQA protections. The Mayor’s new recommendations call for retaining Structure of Merit as a second-tier historic resource under CEQA, but require that buildings designated as Structures of Merit “have integrity as per the California Register of Historic Resources definition of integrity.”

The California Office of Historic Preservation’s Technical Assistance Bulletin #6 defines integrity as follows:
California Register

Integrity is the authenticity of an historical resource’s physical identity evidenced by the survival of characteristics that existed during the resource’s period of significance. Historical resources eligible for listing in the California Register must meet one of the criteria of significance described above and retain enough of their historic character or appearance to be recognizable as historical resources and to convey the reasons for their significance. Historical resources that have been rehabilitated or restored may be evaluated for listing.

Integrity is evaluated with regard to the retention of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. It must also be judged with reference to the particular criteria under which a resource is proposed for eligibility. Alterations over time to a resource or historic changes in its use may themselves have historical, cultural, or architectural significance.

It is possible that historical resources may not retain sufficient integrity to meet the criteria for listing in the National Register, but they may still be eligible for listing in the California Register. A resource that has lost its historic character or appearance may still have sufficient integrity for the California Register if it maintains the potential to yield significant scientific or historical information or specific data.

It’s possible that under the California Register criteria, the historically important Weltevreden (A.C. Schweinfurth, 1896) might pass muster although it was severely altered in the 1950s. Then again, it might not. It’s all a matter of personal interpretation. Weltevreden is already a Structure of Merit and will be grandfathered under the LPO revisions. But what of other such treasures that have not yet be designated?

Another controversial issue has been the Request for Determination. The Mayor seeks to sweeten the pill by creating a single process called Assessment of Historic Significance. A property undergoing historic assessment with no project pending must be fully noticed as if it were subject to a pending land-use decision. This, claims the Mayor, will ensure that nearby neighbors know the LPC is making an assessment decision. The sugar coating soon wears out, because the timeline remains that recommended by the Planning Commission. “Any structure not desginated by this process would be exempt from any further attempts at designation for a period of two years or until a pending permit application was completed, unless significant new information is presented.”

Who would determine which new information is significant? Would it be the Historic Preservation Officer?

The Historic Preservation Officer position is back on the table, albeit on a half-time basis owing to the budget crunch. Among his/her other duties, the HPO would have authority over “minor alteration permits for historic resources (subject to appeal to the LPC and City Council).”

This begs the question, “What are minor alterations?” Planning staff has been known to treat alterations considered major by neighbors as minor changes. Is it wise to entrust such responsibility to a single staff person rather than to a commission of nine citizens?


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