A Commentary by Carrie Anne Downey, Councilwoman 2004-2012
Several letters to the editor have appeared in the last few weeks concerning the City’s Historic Preservation Program and appeals from Historic Resource Commission (HRC) determinations. I thought it might be helpful to review how Coronado’s Historic Preservation Program got started and is now applied.
In 2000, Coronado adopted a Historic Preservation Ordinance and authorized a Mills Act program. The Mills Act program would allow a historically designated property to receive a reduction in property taxes to help the homeowner with the upkeep of the property. It was hoped that the reduction in taxes would encourage homeowners to VOLUNTARILY have their home determined to be a Coronado Historic Resource. Residents began volunteering for designation and applying for Mills Act contracts with the city.
In 2004 in response to concerns that a much loved presumed historic home had been demolished, the City Council adopted urgency legislation. The demolition process would now require homes 75 years or older to be reviewed by the HRC to determine if the home is a Coronado Historic Resource before receiving a demolition permit. The hopes were that if there could be a delay in demolishing historic homes, there would be time to show the owner the Mills Act and other zoning benefits of keeping the historic home. It was never supposed to be a permanent solution.
At the state level, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was revised to make it a significant effect on the environment to demolish a Historic Resource whether it was designated by the federal government, the State Historic Preservation Office, or a city based on local significance under a City Historic Ordinance.
The Council wanted to develop a list of the historic homes in Coronado so that the homes would be able to get Mills Act funding and be protected. The HRC was tasked to come up with a list of homes in 2004 when the urgency legislation was adopted. The HRC provided reports in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. Many citizens did not approve of their homes being on the “Property List”, and a few were unhappy because their home wasn’t on the list. Many times since 2004, the HRC Commissioners stated they did not want a list because that would give residents false hopes. They believed reviewing each property before it could be demolished was the best way to insure that no homes eligible for historic designation would be lost.
Although the council has re-looked at the Mills Act ordinance and increased the yearly amount of property taxes the city is willing to forgo a year to enter into more Mills Act contracts, the Council has not agreed on using a list to identify the homes that are historic and cannot be demolished. The rules are still that a property owner wishing to demolish a home must submit a demolition application to the City and request a determination from the HRC that the property does NOT meet the criteria for designation before the city can grant a demolition permit. Because of the significant effect historic designation has on a property, Coronado’s historic designation requires at least 3 affirmative votes from the HRC, not just a majority of those voting. The property at 1114 G went before 3 HRC Commissioners who could not agree if the property met the requirements for historic designation. Because the vote was 2 for designation and 1 against with the other 2 commissioners not participating, the demolition permit had to be approved. A neighbor who did not want the home torn down and argued it was historic, appealed the HRC ruling to the city council. In December Councilwoman Denny erroneously requested to send it back to the HRC for another vote now that the absent Commissioner had returned and could be the third affirmative vote. There are no legal grounds for such a “Do-Over.” Coronado’s historic designation requirements are clear, the matter was properly heard and appealed. Over her objection, by a 4-1 vote, on December 18, 2012 the City Council determined the home did not meet the criteria to be designated historic and the demolition permit could be granted
On March 19, 2013 the City Council heard an appeal from the owners of 999 Adella Ave. Last month, the HRC found the home to be historic in part because the current owners’ mother was a well known appraiser in Coronado which made her significant, and the many additions and alterations to the home could be removed to recreate the original home built by a prolific builder. The City Council on a 3-2 vote (Denny and Woiwode dissenting) granted the appeal and determined the demolition permit should be granted.
In both cases the majority of the City Council felt that the significant step of preventing the property owners’ right to alter/demolish the home was not overcome by enough evidence of the Historic Nature of the residence. The Council wanted to be sure the process was followed and only those truly historic homes are involuntarily designated.
There are still several hundred homes on the original property list compiled in 2004 that have not yet come before the HRC for determination. There are still dozens of designated homes waiting for reductions of their property taxes under the Mills Act. If Coronado wants to retain historic properties, we should choose the worthiest and insure they are compensated under the Mills Act and not fight with homeowners who do not wish to be designated.