The Laguna Beach historical structure known as "The Ark," was built and designed in 1923 to look like a wooden ship. The city is updating its historic preservation ordinance. (File photo)
After another lengthy hearing on historic preservation, the Laguna Beach Planning Commission on Wednesday indicated it wants to reclassify houses and buildings on the fringe of the city’s historic inventory to allow owners greater flexibility when altering their properties.
Upon city staff’s suggestion, commissioners unanimously voted for staff to return July 5 with a revised historic preservation ordinance that provides a process for owners of C-rated structures to follow if they want to remodel their houses or buildings.
The city is amending its historic preservation ordinance to more closely align with state and federal standards.
Part of the process includes updating a 1981 inventory that had 852 pre-1940s houses considered historic based on a handful of factors, including architectural style and association with important historical events or significant people.
Laguna classified properties as E, K or C.
Properties with an E, the highest rating, and K embody the distinctive characteristics of a time period, region, construction method, or represent work of an important creative individual.
C-rated structures contribute to overall character and history of a neighborhood, but may not be architecturally significant, according to city documents.
Commissioners said they favored one of three options from city staff: downgrading C-rated structures as no longer historic resources, while adopting special considerations for the Design Review Board to mull when evaluating a project, such as keeping building heights in check.
Owners of C-rated properties must currently adhere to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, a series of rules about maintaining, repairing and replacing historic materials, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior website.
These standards are typically “very strict,” community development director Greg Pfost said Thursday.
The issue has generated tension in the city, with some residents claiming the inventory is an example of government overreach into property rights, while other residents say that relaxing development rules would lead to homes that are out of context with neighborhood character.
Public testimony Wednesday lasted more than an hour.
“My goal is not to control property rights, but to control what the place looks like,” Commissioner Roger McErlane said. “The citizens of Laguna Beach have always been proud of what we have here. The goal is to avoid becoming Corona del Mar, and avoid being Emerald Bay, where architecture, volume and square footage rule. Economic incentives are very strong in all of this.”
Commissioners also directed staff to return with more information about the neighborhood impacts, such as motorists circling streets, when property owners do not need to provide as many parking spaces if they preserve or enhance a building’s historical character.
In some cases, owners’ parking requirements have been reduced by 75%.
Four years ago the city hired consultant Jan Ostashay to survey the 852 properties on the 1981 inventory.
Ostashay recommended some properties maintain their original ratings while others be downgraded or upgraded. Other houses had been demolished.
The draft inventory includes 213 structures with a K-rating, 68 with an E-rating and 138 with a C-rating, the Daily Pilot reported earlier this year.
Commissioners favored a voluntary process in which owners want to preserve their houses and possibly lift them onto the city’s historic register.
“We need to create a program where there is owner consent,” Commissioner Anne Johnson said. “I don’t like the arbitrary nature of it. We need to publicize incentives that are available.”
The incentives include waived building and permit fees.
The draft ordinance provides homeowners a process for reevaluating a property’s rating where one does not currently exist.