Thursday, August 23, 2012
By Kit Stolz
The City Council will consider a proposal by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission Tuesday that would require a design review permit for the demolition or substantial alteration of buildings in Ojai which are 50 or more years old. Obtaining such a permit, however, could trigger complex and expensive environmental and historical review.
In a meeting July 12, Historic Commission Chairwoman Jolene Lloyd, brought up the house at 821 El Toro Road as an example. This house, built in 1946 or before, was one of the few examples of good Cape Cod architecture in the city and it was being substantially renovated, she said.
Although the house is under reconstruction, a photograph of the property before renovations began is available on-line via Google Earth at: http://goo.gl/n4jdu.
“[Lloyd] felt that the [Historic Preservation] Commission should have had the opportunity to review the alterations …” the meeting’s minutes state. “[Lloyd] would like a clear and concise stop gap measure to provide more discretion on similar projects.”
The six-person Commission approved the request unanimously. If the proposal is adopted by the City Council, a moratorium would be imposed on the demolition or substantial alteration of all buildings within city limits more than 50 years old without review of the design by staff.
According to Rob Mullane, the city’s Community Development Director, Ojai already requires a design review permit for most additions or substantial alterations to properties within city limits, but single-family residences are largely exempt from this requirement, unless it means construction of a substantial addition or a second floor.
“The Historic Preservation Commission wants to ensure that significant historic structures are not lost to demolition or reduced in value by incompatible or improperly-designed alterations,” he explained in a report to the City Council.
In an administrative report to the City Council, Mullane said the preparation of a report on a property’s value as a historic resource typically costs $1,000 to 2,000, but that the historic properties survey allows staff to rule out the necessity for such a survey in some cases. One example would be an older property that had already been substantially altered.
Craig Beam, an attorney who lives in Ojai and is familiar with the California Environmental Quality Act [CEQA], which governs the environmental and historical review process, warned that the process of environmental review can be time-consuming and expensive for homeowners.
“What the CEQA guidelines say is that if you’re looking at a discretionary approval on a historical resource, you have to presume that it has historical significance,” he said. “The city will have costs associated with that process. It requires a public notice, which takes 90 to 120 days, and there is the possibility of an Environmental Impact Report, which takes a year or more.”
Last year, the city commissioned a survey of historic properties within city limits conducted by San Buenaventura Research Associates, a historic architecture firm in Santa Paula. According to Mitch Stone, a partner at the firm, the intent of the survey was to give decision-makers at the city information on the number of buildings in Ojai that might have historic value.
“What we were called in to do was to determine which buildings should be subject to additional review, and we did that on the basis of a reconnaissance, or ‘windshield’ survey,” he said. “What’s complicating all this is a lot of misunderstanding. The city already has a threshold requirement for design review for historic properties, but also had a lack of knowledge on what they had in terms of historic buildings.”
Tuesday, the City Council will consider the measure, which is described as the scheduling of “a workshop with the Historic Preservation Committee to revise the city’s zoning code to provide more discretion for demolition or substantial alteration of potentially historic structures.”
The meeting, held at 401 S. Ventura St, begins at 7 p.m.