Planning Commission to tackle Laguna's historic preservation ordinance

Planning Commission to tackle Laguna's historic preservation ordinance
This house in Laguna Beach's Woods Cove area, known as "The Ark," was built in 1923. On Wednesday, the Planning Commission will consider proposed rule changes to Laguna's historic preservation ordinance. (File photo)

Laguna Beach's Design Review Board had its say on proposed rule changes to the city's treatment of historic properties. On Wednesday the Planning Commission will provide its feedback.

The complex process of revising Laguna's historic preservation ordinance began four years ago when the City Council approved hiring historical consultant Jan Ostashay to survey 852 pre-1940 homes and update a 1981 inventory of historic properties.


In the process, which included multiple public meetings, some homeowners said they were unaware their homes were included in the inventory until they applied for a permit to remodel or make other changes to their properties.

Other residents did not want to be included in the inventory and requested a codified process to reevaluate their houses. Some speakers suggested eliminating the inventory.


One of the main discussion topics has been treatment of what Laguna calls C-rated properties. Laguna classifies structures into one of three categories based on historical significance.

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, according to the draft ordinance.

C-rated structures contribute to overall character and history of a neighborhood, but may not be architecturally significant.

The city and Ostashay said C-rated structures are not historic resources under the California Environmental Quality Act , and therefore, should be exempt from added work, such as preparing environmental impact reports, according to a city staff report.

But after hearing from multiple speakers at a September meeting, the Heritage Committee, on a 4-3 vote, determined C-rated structures bear historic qualities and should be protected.

Speakers said certain changes to a house's exterior could lead to the home clashing with the surrounding neighborhood.

Under current law, a project is exempt from CEQA if, for example, the maintenance, restoration and repair adhere to the Secretary of the Interior's Standards.

Changes that could trigger a CEQA review include removing character-defining features, such as replacing doors and windows, or altering roofing materials, according to city documents.

But the Secretary of the Interior's Standards allow for "minimal alterations," which the city said is fine for buildings with key architectural features, but create a conundrum for properties that are not "individually historic," but contribute to the neighborhood, the staff report said.

The proposed ordinance includes a process for homeowners to have their property's rating reexamined. The Heritage Committee would hold a public hearing and recommend one of the three ratings, or no rating. The committee could also request that the city pay for a historic assessment to provide more information.

The city created the 1981 inventory as a way to both preserve Laguna's village character and offer incentives to homeowners who applied for and gained approval for their houses to be part of the city's historic register. Incentives include reduced parking requirements and waived building and permit fees.

In January the Design Review Board recommended approval of the proposed ordinance, with a few added suggestions.

For more information and to read the draft ordinance, visit

Wednesday's meeting begins at 6 p.m. at City Hall at 505 Forest Ave.

Twitter: @AldertonBryce