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August 13, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, August 13, 2004

Historic rules expected to pass Historic rules expected to pass (August 13, 2004)

Property owners could demolish heritage buildings

By Jon Wiener

Preservationists and property rights advocates will have one final chance to speak out on a historic preservation law this Tuesday, when Mountain View City Council members are expected to enact a voluntary, incentive-based ordinance.

A year in the making, the passing of a voluntary ordinance will signal a victory for property owners whose buildings were placed on the city's historic register when the council passed an interim emergency ordinance in April 2002.

Council members indicated their opposition to a mandatory ordinance, recommended by the environmental planning commission, at several study sessions earlier this year. But some preservation proponents, including Council member Rosemary Stasek, are disappointed with the result.

"A voluntary ordinance is not an ordinance at all," Stasek said, adding that it "is not going to save a single building. The only people that are going to abide by it are people who would have (preserved their homes) anyway."

The council will also likely re-adopt the historic register Tuesday, but owners will have a six-month "opt-out" period in which to get off the list. On Tuesday, the council will determine how many years properties will have to remain on the register. Owners of these properties will have to apply to the city council for any major renovation to their buildings.

The original list, hastily cobbled together from unofficial city lists, has been a major source of controversy. Many of the 93 property owners put intense public pressure on the council to steer clear of a mandatory ordinance, forming the Mountain View Neighborhood Preservation Association to counter the Mountain View Preservation Alliance, which favored a mandatory approach.

"It's very easy to talk about a preservation ordinance in the abstract," said Council member Greg Perry. "But it gets harder when you have to look someone in the eye and tell them you're taking hundreds of thousands of dollars out of the value of their property."

Property owners who want to be placed on the list will be able to apply to the zoning administrator, and then become eligible for a series of benefits.

According to senior planner Lynnie Melena, the ordinance will reward owners on the list through a series of benefits, including special consideration for zoning variations and a reduction in property taxes. The city will forfeit its share of property taxes on each lot, approximately 15 percent on average.

Homeowners on the list will also be able to cut their property taxes via a Mills Act contract, which requires the owner to preserve a historic building in exchange for the county assessor devaluing the property by as much as 50 percent.

"It has the effect of reducing property tax but works a different way," said Melena.

The ordinance may also include a loan program for improvements that preserve or improve the historic character of a house, but funding sources will have to be found before it is activated.

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