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April 23, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, April 23, 2004

Council leans toward voluntary preservation Council leans toward voluntary preservation (April 23, 2004)

City expected to ask homeowners to join a register on their own

By Grace Rauh

With Mountain View's temporary historic preservation ordinance ending this week, the city council threw support behind a new permanent ordinance that does not require property owner compliance.

The council debated potential ordinance plans at a study session on Tuesday night and came out -- for the second time -- in favor of a historic preservation ordinance with voluntary compliance. Rather than force property owners to add their buildings to a register, the city would allow them to volunteer their properties for a new list.

The council adopted an interim ordinance on April 23, 2002 when a building at 902 Villa St., considered to be historically significant, was slated for demolition. Since then, city staff members have been scrambling to create a permanent ordinance for the council to adopt.

Now nearly two years later, it is unclear whether the future ordinance will save the very building that prompted the initial actions.

"Think of 902 as a litmus test," said Larry Rosenberg, whose home overlooks the historic property. "If it's voluntary, I'm willing to bet that 902 is history. ... It either has to be mandatory or voluntary with real incentives."

Council member Rosemary Stasek, the only one in opposition, agreed that a voluntary ordinance without significant incentives has no teeth. And she doesn't believe the city has the resources to keep the owner of 902 Villa St. from demolishing the building to put up office space.

"Sincerely, I don't think there will be anyone on this list," she said. "To say we have a voluntary ordinance is to say nothing."

Paulette Spencer, who owns 696 California St., which is considered by the city to be historic, attended the meeting armed with 239 signatures from homeowners and neighbors opposing an ordinance with mandatory compliance. She has only heard from five people whose properties are on the interim historic register who support a mandatory ordinance.

Spencer is urging the council to adopt a voluntary register and, for the first time since this debate began, she thinks she's almost in the clear. If the council approves a voluntary ordinance, she will pull her property right off the list, she said.

The bulk of the council sided with property owners like Spencer, who have balked at the prospect of being forced to join a historic register, which limits them from demolishing or significantly modifying their buildings. Council members want to entice property owners to come on board, but they have not yet determined which incentives they will adopt and how they will work.

"It's setting up a program and setting it up in a way so people want to come in," said Council member Greg Perry.

Potential incentives include rebating the city's share of property taxes for the location and creating a fund to help rehabilitate historic buildings. But, the city is strapped for cash and is expected to make some significant cuts to its budget for next year. It is unclear where the money would come from to create these financial incentives.

Council members also debated whether the ordinance's top priority should be to protect individual buildings or to maintain a historic aesthetic in certain neighborhoods. Currently, individual neighborhoods can adopt design restrictions on homes if at least 50 percent of the residents in the area support them.

The council may consider hiring a consultant to help it determine which architectural traits best represent the feel of Mountain View's older neighborhoods. The city could then impose architectural requirements on new homes or properties undergoing additions or renovations.

The council will hear more feedback from the public at a hearing in May or June.

E-mail Grace Rauh at

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