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Updates to historical preservation ordinance heads to Laguna Beach City Council chambers for review

The Laguna Beach historical structure known as "The Ark,"
The Laguna Beach City Council will be considering the historic preservation ordinance at Tuesday’s council meeting. If approved, it will be passed to a second reading for adoption. Above, “The Ark” was built and designed in 1923 to look like a wooden ship.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

After a years-long effort to update the city’s municipal code, the historic preservation ordinance is returning to the Laguna Beach City Council chambers.

Staff is recommending approval of a draft ordinance designed to update the city’s inventory of historic structures. The historic preservation ordinance, first adopted in 1989, acknowledged the 1981 Historic Resources Inventory and provided incentives to owners to maintain those properties. Work to begin to revise current city code on historical preservation began in 2015, according to a staff report prepared for Tuesday’s meeting.

The move to update the historic register, however, began in 2013 as it became outdated, with many of the structures listed having been modified or demolished and others were added to it, city staff said in February.

The City Council will review revisions to the draft ordinance, which was first introduced to the council in March 2019. City staff was subsequently directed to include several recommendations by the historic preservation task force and update the definition of a “historic resource” in the draft.

Staff was also asked to hire a consultant to prepare an initial study in accordance with state environmental law for the project.

Laguna Beach announced Wednesday that it would be cancelling the last session of its Junior Lifeguards program. A day later, Orange County reported 1,292 new cases and 26 new deaths related to the coronavirus.

The recommendations proposed by the task force include using state codes to replace the local historic rating system; concurrent review of applications for the historic register and incentives; elimination of age as a criterion; and changing when design review is required for historic properties.

Other revisions in the draft ordinance are the inclusion of “owner consent” as a criterion for eligibility for the local register and the removal of any reference to the 1981 inventory. Historic preservation incentives have also been expanded.

The city will also need to clarify an existing list in its general plan, which shows 41 properties eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, staff said. Since 1981, 21 of those properties were designated on the city’s historic register, with two also on the national register. One property was demolished before adoption of the historic preservation ordinance in 1989.

The 20 other properties on the list — including Anneliese School, Hotel Laguna and Main Street Bar & Cabaret — would need to be evaluated as part of any future development applications to determine their historic status.

The Planning Commission reviewed the changes in February and unanimously recommended City Council approval.

Artist Christie Smith said she decided in June to move the gallery down from Half Moon Bay to Laguna Beach.

Residents previously requested that discussion of the historical preservation ordinance be delayed until the public could be present in council chambers, pointing to the contentious debate between preservationists that favor protections and frustrated property owners that want to maintain or change their properties.

As of the posting of the agenda on Thursday, the city received 50 letters weighing in.

Tuesday’s meeting will begin at 5 p.m. and can be viewed on Cox cable channel 852 or livestreamed through the city’s website at lagunabeachcity.net/cityhall/citygov/cityclerk/mam.htm.

Residents are encouraged to send comments on agenda items to City Clerk Lisette Chel-Walker at lchel@lagunabeachcity.net. All communications must be received by noon Tuesday.

Residents can also call in at (669) 900-9128 to listen to the meeting and comment during designated periods. While calling, dial 9292518960# and press *9 to comment on an item. Time for remarks may be limited.

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