Bev­erly Hills votes to re­vise his­toric home pro­tec­tions

Changes to or­di­nance are ‘big step back­ward’ and put prop­er­ties at risk of de­mo­li­tion, preser­va­tion­ists say.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Martha Groves martha.groves @latimes.com Twit­ter: @MarthaGroves

His­toric homes and other build­ings in one of Cal­i­for­nia’s most sto­ried en­claves are at risk of de­mo­li­tion be­cause of­fi­cials have rolled back pro­tec­tions, preser­va­tion ad­vo­cates say.

Af­ter hours of sharply di­vided dis­cus­sion, the Bev­erly Hills City Coun­cil voted 3 to 2 late Tues­day to al­ter the city’s highly praised preser­va­tion or­di­nance. Among other changes, the re­vi­sions would set a higher bar for struc­tures to qual­ify for lo­cal land­mark sta­tus and for ar­chi­tects to be in­cluded on the city’s “master ar­chi­tects” list.

They would also shorten the time dur­ing which ap­pli­ca­tions for land­mark des­ig­na­tion would have to be re­viewed and acted upon and pre­vent the city from des­ig­nat­ing lo­cal his­toric dis­tricts within sin­gle-fam­ily residential neigh­bor­hoods.

In Los An­ge­les and na­tion­wide, lo­cal his­toric dis­tricts have proven to be an ef­fec­tive way to main­tain com­mu­nity char­ac­ter, said Adrian Scott Fine, di­rec­tor of ad­vo­cacy at the Los An­ge­les Con­ser­vancy.

“This is a big step back­ward for Bev­erly Hills,” he said. “Af­ter mak­ing such great progress in preser­va­tion, the city has clearly re­versed course with overly se­lec­tive land­mark cri­te­ria, a sub­jec­tive process for opt­ing out of des­ig­na­tion that’s vul­ner­a­ble to abuse and a lack of ba­sic safe­guards for his­toric places.”

City spokes­woman Therese Koster­man said the re­vi­sions were the re­sult of months of col­lab­o­ra­tion among the Plan­ning and Cul­tural Her­itage com­mis­sions, res­i­dents, coun­cil mem­bers and the con­ser­vancy.

“The changes main­tain the most im­por­tant el­e­ments of the his­toric preser­va­tion or­di­nance and at­tempt to strike a bal­ance be­tween preser­va­tion and prop­erty rights,” she said. “The new cri­te­ria for his­toric des­ig­na­tion are now more ob­jec­tive and should bring greater clar­ity to prop­erty own­ers about whether their build­ing qual­i­fies as his­toric.”

In Jan­uary 2012, the city earned plau­dits from preser­va­tion pro­po­nents for adopt­ing an or­di­nance that sought to pro­tect note­wor­thy struc­tures and sites. The rules were writ­ten in re­sponse to the de­mo­li­tion of such lo­cal icons as the Fri­ars Club, Pick­fair and John Laut­ner’s Shusett House.

An aborted plan to raze Richard Neu­tra’s Kro­nish Res­i­dence helped gal­va­nize the com­mu­nity to cre­ate a land­mark des­ig­na­tion process and a five-per­son Cul­tural Her­itage Com­mis­sion.

The city has since put 29 prop­er­ties on its lo­cal register of his­toric prop­er­ties, in­clud­ing the Bev­erly Hills Ho­tel, the Grey­stone Man­sion and the Kro­nish house.

The con­ser­vancy gave the city its high­est grade — A-plus — on its coun­ty­wide Preser­va­tion Re­port Card for 2014. Fine said the group now planned to lower the rat­ing.

Pro­po­nents of his­toric preser­va­tion in Bev­erly Hills have long waged bat­tle with prop­erty-rights ad­vo­cates who have ex­pressed con­cern that val­ues could drop if the bal­ance tipped too far in fa­vor of safe­guard­ing prop­er­ties.

“Peo­ple to­day have very dif­fer­ent lifestyles than they did 80 to 90 years ago,” res­i­dent Larry Lar­son said in a let­ter sup­port­ing the re­vi­sions. “Many of these older homes are ‘func­tion­ally ob­so­lete.’ ”

Coun­cil­man Wil­lie Brien said the changes “make for a more fair, bal­anced or­di­nance.”

But Woodrow W. Clark II, an economist based in Bev­erly Hills and au­thor of the forth­com­ing book “Smart Green Cities,” dis­agreed. “The Bev­erly Hills City Coun­cil has made a bad mis­take,” he said.

The re­vised or­di­nance, he said, puts too much con­trol of the city’s po­ten­tially his­toric build­ings in the hands of the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion and re­duces the Cul­tural Her­itage Com­mis­sion’s clout. “That,” he said, “is con­trary to what other cities and even the state of Cal­i­for­nia are do­ing: pre­serv­ing our history.”

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