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Laguna Beach relaxes preservation requirements for hundreds of its older properties

Laguna Beach leaders made historical preservation of hundreds of properties in the city voluntary, but will promote the benefits of still taking care of the older homes and buildings that make the seaside town special.

The city maintains a registry of more than 300 historically or architecturally valuable properties that need to be preserved as accurately as possible, but it also had a secondary inventory of about 800 properties built before 1940 – this week the City Council agreed to do away with that second list that was also held up to stricter preservation standards making it hard for property owners to do upkeep and make modifications.

“I think we’re doing a disservice to residents and not really making clear what the benefits of renovation are,” said Councilwoman Toni Iseman, who on Tuesday, Aug. 11, voted against the changes, but advocated for the city to at least develop the education campaign that will now be formulated by city staff.

She wants the city have workshops for architects and Realtors so they understand how to research a property’s historical significance and the benefits of preservation, which include some ability to avoid the city’s more stringent requirements of parking and setbacks.

The new system will need to go to the Coastal Commission for a final review.

More than 3,000 people signed a petition to keep the preservation rules in place for the broader inventory of properties, local landscape architect Ann Christoph told the City Council. “We presented you with lots of reasons.”

The demolition of, or dramatic changes to, some of the properties could affect the charm and village character of the community, so wouldn’t that trigger a look at the environmental impact of changing the system, some at Tuesday’s meeting questioned.

“It’s preposterous to promote the elimination of protection for hundreds of properties,” said Francesca Smith, who identified herself as an architectural historian and who said she had followed state guidelines for 30 years. “There is substantial evidence of a significant impact.”

But Larry Nokes, a local attorney who has represented clients with properties listed on the inventory, said the secondary inventory of older properties had been voluntary in the beginning and wasn’t an official register of historically significant properties.

“Those on the register are protected, but on the inventory, they’re not,” he said.

Roy Gallagher, whose mother encountered difficulties trying to put new windows into a home on the inventory, said he does his best “to maintain historical accuracy” but property owners have rights.  “I am a retired combat vet, I’d like to think I fought for my rights.”

Councilman Steve Dicterow said he believes most people in town care about the aesthetics, charm and character of Laguna Beach.

“But, they don’t want to achieve it through government making programs,” he said. “People move here because they don’t want to look like other areas around us. Conversely, to voluntarily do this with incentives will achieve what everyone is looking for, without the heavy hands on property rights.”

Source: Orange County Register

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