New Landmark District In Process – Outreach Meeting Next Week

It has been eight years since the City created its last Historic District (now called “Landmark Districts”), that being the Dog Patch Landmark District, established in 2003. For those that don’t follow historic preservation issues and rules closely, a “Landmark District” is the highest level of protection that a group of buildings in the City can receive. Landmark Districts are reserved for the City’s most important historic areas and collections of intact historic buildings. In this case, the proposed Duboce Park Landmark District was identified and documented as eligible for the National Register back in 2008. The proposed district is composed of 89 residential buildings within the area bounded by Scott, Waller, and Steiner Streets.

On December 7, 2011, the Planning Department is hosting a drop-in event at the Harvey Milk Center where Planning Department staffers will be ready to answer your questions and explain how the district works and what it means to property owners in terms of what they can do to the exterior of their building. For those that are interested, the Duboce Park packet for that Neighborhood Outreach Meeting can be found at this link.

If the district is ultimately created (which requires approval of an ordinance by the Board of Supervisors), many exterior alterations to the homes within the district would be required to go through a new permitting and entitling process and receive a “Certificate of Appropriateness.” In some cases (i.e. any exterior addition, for example), this new requirement will trigger a hearing at the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC). For certain work designated as “minor alterations”, the approval power can be delegated to the planning staff without a hearing. However, the staff’s approval of that “administrative” Certificate of Appropriateness without a hearing is subject to an appeal right, and any member of the public may appeal that administrative approval directly to the HPC (requiring a public hearing before the Certificate can be either approved or denied).

The Department does point out that a Certificate of Appropriateness (CA) is not required for any interior alterations or seismic work or ordinary maintenance and repair. That said, owners within this proposed district should understand that many exterior changes to their home will likely be subject to this new process.

In its materials, the Planning Department staff states that “Landmark District designation ensures that rehabilitation and new construction is compatible with the neighborhood’s historic character.” We respectfully disagree. There are already significant controls in place both under the California Environmental Quality Act and the existing (and well used) Residential Design Guidelines, and the Planning Department’s UDAT process. And of course any exterior alteration is already subject to Section 311 notice and possible Discretionary Review.

In our opinion there are more than enough regulations in place to protect the historic fabric of this neighborhood. It is unfortunate that the City believes that yet another level of process (and more costs and fees) is necessary.  And speaking of costs, we think it would be appropriate as part of the outreach to notify residents within the proposed district about the new fees and costs that would be triggered by the CA process.

That said, the materials prepared by the staff that inform the public of what types of changes to the exterior of each building façade will trigger what type of review is certainly helpful and should guide homeowners in decisions with respect to what things trigger what new process. Many of the standard repair and maintenance work appear to only require an administrative CA. Of course, any new construction in the district or exterior alterations not listed by the City or visible additions proposed for the historic structures will require a full Certificate of Appropriateness which means a hearing in front of the Historic Preservation Commission.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient. Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein. Reuben & Junius, LLP is a full service real estate law firm. We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law. We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.

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