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Glendale officials enhance penalties for illegal demolition of historic homes

Glendale officials enhance penalties for illegal demolition of historic homes
Glendale officials have passed an ordinance meant to disincentivize illegal demolitions of historic, or potentially historic, properties. The regulations were crafted following the unpermitted razing of a 1908 Craftsman-style house, pictured, last year. (Courtesy of the Glendale Historical Society)

More severe penalties will now be levied against anyone who demolishes a historic, or potentially historic, home without a permit, following a unanimous vote by City Council members supporting an ordinance that also expands the types of homes covered by the new regulations.

“We’re trying to create a disincentive for anyone thinking, ‘I can tear this house down because I don’t like it,’” said Jay Platt, Glendale’s senior urban planner.

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It’s a bittersweet victory for historic preservationists who have not forgotten last year’s unpermitted demolition of a 1908 Craftsman-style house in northwest Glendale by its owners — an act that inspired council members to direct staff to draft what’s known as the demolition-deterrence ordinance.

Since the razing of the home at 1420 Valley View Road, “the community has desperately sought a tangible solution to the problem,” Glendale native Lee Smith told council members during a meeting on Tuesday, where the ordinance was approved.

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“No one should demolish any property illegally, whether it’s historic or not,” Platt said after the meeting. “The reason we’re looking at the historic ones is because we have a community that cares about historic preservation.”

Penalties for those who illegally demolish properties covered by the ordinance now face increased fines, denial of construction permits for three years after demolition and a requirement that any new structure on the lot match the footprint, height and square footage of the demolished structure. The lot must also be maintained during the years that construction is prohibited, Platt said.

Properties covered by the ordinance include what are known as potentially historic homes, or those that haven’t been formally designated as historic but are deemed eligible via an assessment by the owner, a city official or area survey. Homes that are considered contributors to a historic district are also included in the new regulations.

According to Platt, more than 1,000 homes will be covered by the ordinance — up from the 125 prior to its passage.

When the Valley View property was demolished, its historic status was disputed by the owners. In 2015, the owners submitted an independent assessment stating that the house could not contribute to a historic district, reversing a previous evaluation. However, the city’s preservation planner disagreed with the second assessment and determined that the home appeared to be historic, according to city documents.

Under the new ordinance, the owners of the Valley View home would be subject to the increased penalties outlined by the measure because the city considered the home potentially historic, Platt said. The new regulations also add clarity to the process of determining the historic status of a property, he added.

“I don’t think anyone here is against this item, so we’re all on the same team,” Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian said during the meeting.

While all of the public speakers voiced their support for the ordinance, many urged council members to bring back what Platt calls “Part 2” of the ordinance soon.

Included in that portion is broader changes to the code that were called “clean-ups and clarifications” to enhance historic preservation, according to Platt. One change in that part of the ordinance would send appeals of staff decisions directly to Glendale’s Historic Preservation Commission.

Consideration of those changes were deferred until City Council members can receive further briefing about them, Platt said.

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