City hosts historical structure workshops

The Heritage Committee and those who own buildings they think are worth preserving can learn how historical integrity is assessed and what perks make preservation worthwhile at two separate workshops next month.

On June 2, the city will host a California Preservation Foundation workshop on identifying and assessing the significance of a property. Then on June 16, the committee will host a free workshop on the state Mills Act, which grants incentives such as reduced property taxes and reductions in required parking, waived fees and deviations from the zoning code when remodeling. One of the speakers will be from Galvan Preservation, the consulting firm hired by the city to process applications for the agreements with the state.

"I think the workshops will clarify some issues that face the committee and the City Council," said committee member Molly Bing. "We make recommendations, but the council has overturned us on some projects that we felt very strongly about."

The committee evaluates and advises the council on the integrity of structures that are on or should be on the city's Historic Register, a prerequisite for consideration for a Mills Act agreement with the state.

Participants of the first workshop will explore how historical structures are evaluated on the local, state and national levels.

Registration and pre-payment are required by June 1. For more information, visit http://www.californiapreservation.org or call (415) 495-0349. Admission is $150 for non-members, $115 for members.

The city negotiated a reduced rate for the Heritage Committee members, charged to the education fund.

"I think the workshop will help the Heritage Committee perform its duties," said City Councilwoman and committee liaison Verna Rollinger. "It is an educational tool, and it seems to me the committee members should not have to pay to go."

The city has a vested interest in the preservation of historic structures, locally rated E for excellent, K for key examples and C for contributory to neighborhood character, in the belief that the preserved properties help distinguish the city from other communities and foster civic pride.

But structures with Mills Act tax exemptions cost the city about $60,000 a year in revenue and special entities like the Laguna Beach Unified School District a total of $180,000 a year, City Manager John Pietig said.

When the city first participated in the Mills Act agreements with the state, only E-rated homes were eligible.

Sixteen properties were processed between 1995 and 2006. When K-rated structures were made eligible in 2007, the applications dramatically increased to 24 in four years, committee member Bonnie Hano said in a report requested by the council.

"Something is wrong with this picture, and we are working on it," Hano said. "Our main focus this year is revamping the qualifications for the Mills Act.

The council obliged the committee by declaring a moratorium on K-rated applications for the Mills Act agreements earlier this spring. E-rated homes still are being processed.

The committee is investigating how other cities handle Mills Act applications and conducts its usual practice of making recommendations to the Planning Commission and Design Review Board about additions or alterations to properties on the inventory, for which no incentives are granted, or on the Historic Register.

"The act can easily be abused," Bing said. "It is a 10-year agreement, but it is renewed each year, which makes it perpetual."

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