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City could make it harder to form historic districts

Supporters of creating historic districts in Burbank intend to give City Council members an earful Tuesday as they consider a proposal that would make the threshold for establishing the protected neighborhoods the most restrictive in Los Angeles County.

If the amendment to city code is approved as recommended, more than half of the affected property owners in a proposed historic district would have to sign off on the concept before the process could get started — a far higher standard than the 25% originally recommended by city officials.

The recommendation from the Planning Board also would increase the originally proposed neighborhood support threshold for moving a historic district application to the final phase of review from simple majority to 75%.

The proposal narrowly passed the Planning Board on a 3-2 vote, with one dissenter arguing that the more stringent standard was tantamount to telling the public to basically “forget about” historic districting.


“If you raise that to 75%, you’re just killing the historical issue,” Planning Board member Kenneth San Miguel said during the meeting last month. “If we change those numbers, it just like saying, ‘Forget about this.’”

City staff had originally recommended that 25% of residents living in a proposed historic district, or within 1,000 feet of one, approve starting the process to study whether the homes in the neighborhood are historically significant.

Staff also recommended that 50% plus one of the residents must OK moving the application to the final phase, where it would go before the Heritage Commission and Planning Board before heading to the City Council.

The city of Glendale’s guidelines were used a model.


But the majority of Planning Board members said the standards should be higher, among them Chairman Vahe Hovanessian, who pointed to the fact that 60% of the homes in a district must be deemed historically significant before a request can be granted.

He said raising the percentage for the final stage to 75% makes sure that some of the homes that are not historically significant, called “non-contributing,” be onboard with creating the district. That buy-in is important, he added, because owners of non-contributing homes in a historic district would have to undergo a review by the city’s Heritage Commission if they want to build a second story or construct a new primary dwelling.

But one of Burbank’s most ardent supporters of preserving historical neighborhoods decried the proposal, saying the city is dealing with a “huge learning curve” among residents.

“My concern is that by raising these percentage requirements, it’s going to make it much more prohibitive to get the process started,” said Greg Rehner, who launched a grass-roots organization called Preserve Burbank a few years ago to preserve the community’s architectural history.

Rehner is also co-owner of a home called the Rock House, which was the first home to be deemed historically significant under the city’s revamped historic preservation ordinance. Since then, two other local homes have since been registered.

Rehner said there are many myths about historic preservation swirling around in the community.

The truth is, interior changes can be made, as well as alterations to the back of the house, he said. Any changes to the part of the house that is viewable from the street, though, must be approved through the Heritage Commission with guidelines established individually by each district and agreed upon during its formation, he added.

“You can basically gut your house if you want,” Rehner said.


The City Council is scheduled to take up the Planning Board’s recommendation at its meeting at City Hall Tuesday.


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