Planners to weigh in on Laguna Beach’s historic preservation ordinance

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The city of Laguna Beach is recommending 1955 as a cut-off year for evaluating houses and other buildings on historic merit when property owners want to remodel or make other changes.

On Wednesday, the Planning Commission will vet proposed changes to Laguna Beach’s historic preservation ordinance, which outlines rules intended to “safeguard” the city’s heritage and enhance Laguna’s visual character by preserving buildings that make “significant” contributions to older neighborhoods, among other objectives, according to a city staff report.

Wednesday’s meeting will be the fourth time commissioners have discussed the ordinance since March.


Commissioners last month suggested C-rated structures — representing the lowest of Laguna’s three-tier rating system — no longer be classified as historic resources, and requested more information from city staff about 1945 as a cap.

Under the proposed ordinance, houses or buildings built in or before 1955 would be evaluated on historical standards. A historic resource, according to the report, is a property with characteristics of a period, type, region or method of construction, or representative of an “important creative” individual’s work.

The Heritage Committee recommended 1955 because “it felt that time period was the end of the individually constructed, unique structures that were important to the city’s past,” the staff report said.

In this scenario, only structures that are intact, built before 1955 and representative of any of several architectural styles including beach cottage, bungalow, provincial and settlement, would be evaluated for historical significance, according to the report.

About 1,600 structures were built between 1945 and 1955, the staff report said. The buildings, some of which have been altered and others which maintained their original condition, are spread across the city.

The process of updating the ordinance began four years ago and involves revising a 1981 inventory that had 852 pre-1940s houses considered historic based on a handful of factors, including association with important historical events or significant people and architectural style.

The question of what to do with C-rated properties has generated public debate during prior meetings, especially in the last year.

Proponents of heightened historical protection worry that some of Laguna’s neighborhoods would lose their character if people got carried away with making changes to their properties while other owners said they should be able to do what they want with their properties to make spaces livable for their families.

Commissioners said the city’s Design Review Board should use additional criteria, such as whether building heights are appropriate for the neighborhood, when considering proposed exterior alterations to C-rated properties, but not be held to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for historic preservation.

The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards are “typically very strict,” Laguna Community Development Director Greg Pfost told the Daily Pilot earlier this year.

The Design Review Board assesses proposed development for compliance with the city’s general plan.

Under the proposed ordinance, Laguna’s Heritage Committee, charged with advising the Design Review Board on historic preservation, would not be required to review projects involving C-rated structures on the inventory before board members consider plans, the staff report said.

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

Twitter: @AldertonBryce