Citing concerns over how to finance a new historic preservation ordinance and concern over its clarity, the Escondido City Council asked its staff Wednesday to revise the proposal.
The ordinance would reduce by more than half the number of buildings protected under the existing historic preservation ordinance, from 800 to about 300, said Dawn Suitts, principal planner for the city.
The current historic preservation law, which has been in effect since 1987, was first challenged late last year by an Escondido woman hoping to demolish her house along South Escondido Boulevard that was essentially a boarded-up shack.
Unbeknown to Margaret Cobb, the city in 1983 had declared her shack to have historic value and required that she pay a significant fee before the house could be razed. The city eventually waived the demolition fee, but the controversy remained over what buildings were historic and how to keep them.
The new ordinance, aside from doing away with the demolition fees, hopes to clarify what structures in the city are historic and streamline the process for those hoping to renovate or demolish all or parts of a historic structure.
“We’re going to be more selective in how we identify the houses that are historic,” said Rick Mercurio, chairman of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, which will determine which structures are historic.
“The old system was pretty arbitrary . . . putting everything that was old on the survey, whether it was a dump or not,” Mercurio said.
Now, any building that is more than 50 years old is considered historic. Under the new law, structures would have to meet an additional requirement to prove they are historic.
Each structure would also go through an individual public hearing process before becoming part of the historic structures registry, since many owners complained that they had not been notified before their structures were declared historic.
Several owners of historic structures argued that the proposed ordinance unfairly revoked their property rights by preventing them from modifying their homes as they sought fit.
“Our freedom to do with our property that which we believe is in our best interest seems to be in jeopardy by a policy that appears arbitrary,” said Mark Tuttle, who owns a rental property on South Ivy Street.
Members of the council requested their staffs to develop more specific criteria for determining the historic value of commercial and investment properties.
A critical part of the ordinance also requires that the city provide financial incentives to owners of historical structures to renovate and maintain their houses, but no one seems to know where that money is coming from.
“There is a financial reality, and that is we are having a difficult time meeting our budgets today for basic city service,” Councilwoman Carla DeDominicis said.
The incentives are estimated to cost about $72,000 every year for five years.
“There is a price tag for the incentives that we are asking for from the city, and I know it is a tough request given this year’s budget crunch . . . but (the City Council members) have said all along that they favor the carrot over the stick,” Mercurio said.
Although Mercurio said the incentives are an important part of the ordinance, others are more insistent that the entire historic structures package will not work without the incentives.
“The whole purpose of the ordinance is to maintain and restore the historic treasures of Escondido, and, if you aren’t going to make it advantageous for people to do that, then why should they?” said Margaret Moir. Along with her husband, Douglas, Moir owns a Colonial Revival home on Broadway, built in 1900.