City holds off on preservation program

Local property owners who have been looking to the city to enact an historic property preservation program under the Mills Act will have to wait a bit longer, as the City Council this week sent a proposed ordinance back to staff for refinement.

Councilmembers Don Voss and Laura Olhasso expressed support for the plan at Tuesday’s meeting, but said the proposal lacks specific conditions to determine historical significance. The ordinance, which draws its authority from the state law, would allow qualified property owners to potentially save 40-50% on their property taxes.

“I feel strongly about this … that the definitions of what was historic need to be documented,” Voss said. “They need to be included, in my mind, in the ordinance.”

Voss said that he wanted to make sure that the intent of the ordinance wasn’t muddied through the years, which he believed could be the result if the conditions for historical significance were left outHe noted the state law doesn’t just apply to old homes, but to homes that are of significance to the community. A local ordinance should clearly spell out these conditions.

“There were seven points of definition that came out of the [historic preservation] subcommittee, and we put some time into that, and some time and thought into it, so I think it is important that we get that in there,” Voss said.

Those conditions included identification with significant historical events or persons, being the work of a notable architect, embodying a distinctive local style, or promoting awareness and appreciation of city history.

The council also directed staff to add language to the ordinance that will allow property owners to apply for the program retroactively.

Interest in a local Mills Act ordinance surfaced in January 2011 following an inquiry by attorney Brad Schwartz, who lives with his wife Vicki in a 1926 Spanish Colonial Revival home on Woodleigh Lane developed by Frank Flint, who gave Flintridge its name.

La Cañada resident and Mills Act proponent Diane Wilk, an architect at Michael Burch Architects, told the council that the ordinance would encourage proper care and restoration of historical homes.

“So many times people will add on or make changes to a historic building without having an understanding of the proportions, the design intent, and really mess up what was originally there,” she said. “The Mills Act is trying to encourage the proper restoration and the proper treatment of these historic structures.”

Wilk and her husband, Michael Burch, own two properties on Alta Canyada Road that she says should qualify under the ordinance.

“I’m absolutely thrilled, they didn’t need to do the retroactive, but over the course of the lifetime of our owning those properties it could be up to a half million dollars worth of taxes [saved],” she said.

Wilk said that she thought the Mills Act would help increase property values in the city, and that, as residents learned more about the program, interest would increase.

City planner Patrick Clarke said that while so far three residents have contacted the city to state their interest in applying for the Mills Act, he believes there are more interested residents out there.

“I’ve about three people who are interested now, but I’ve had other phone calls,” he said. “People follow a case, and they’ll say, ‘well I’m going to see what happens and then I’ll make a decision.’”

Despite his support of the ordinance, Voss said he believes it is important to limit the revenue impact of the potential measure on the city.

“We didn’t want to have a blank check and approve a lot of Mills Act applications that may or may not be consistent with the goals and objectives of the council and the city,” he said.

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