Beverly Hills News – Planning Commission Review Will Significantly Alter Cultural Heritage Ordinance
Posted Thursday, October 30 – 6:25 PM
By Victoria Talbot
Maintaining that historic preservation of single-family homes depresses real estate prices, Planning Commission (PC) Chair Howard Fisher and Commissioner Craig Corman have undertaken to rewrite the Cultural Heritage ordinance that was created just two and a half years ago, when developers sought to demolish one of the three homes built by Master Architect Richard Neutra in Beverly Hills.
In 2011, members of the preservation community banded together to save the home, inspiring the creation of the Cultural Heritage Commission (CHC) and ordinance.
Neglected and in foreclosure, the Neutra home stood at the end of a 250-foot long driveway, not visible from the street. It seemed an unlikely candidate for preservation.
“Many in the community, including the four planning commissioners who were present at last week’s meeting, and commissioners from other commissions, believe the original ordinance needs retooling to bring the ordinance in line with the City’s goals,” said Fisher. “Craig Corman has taken the lead, with input from me, as to the direction of the proposed revisions.”
The proposed ordinance seeks to limit properties included in the historic survey, to create a “Certificate of Exemption” to establish that a property is not historic, to limit the time the City has to make a determination and to create standards of inclusion that can eliminate the majority of homes in the City from consideration.
Undertaken in 2013, the historic resources survey currently in progress “is not starting from scratch,” said Cultural Heritage Commission Chair Maralee Beck. “There are not a whole bunch of surprises.”
However, the redrawn ordinance would create a labor-intensive process to determine eligibility for inclusion in the survey, requiring staff research and expense not currently required for the traditional surveys. The City would produce a different survey for the new criteria being proposed.
Historic resources surveys are currently available on the City’s website, conducted in 1985-6, 2004 and 2006. By nature, an historic resources survey must be conducted periodically to accommodate history, thus a new survey is in progress.
Fisher wants a degree of certainty and predictability, said Beck, but she points out, property values within the City have soared since the ordinance went into effect.
“It should be a question of education,” said Councilmember John Mirisch, a major force behind creation of the ordinance. “Its nonsense. Its simply unprofessional to make statements like that.”
Changes in the definitions of key concepts such as “Master Architect,” “exceptional” and “integrity” could also result in the elimination of many homes from consideration. Potential inclusion of the so-called “Hughes Crash House,” a Wallace Neff home on Linden Drive, was polarizing. In that case, the homeowners say they have decided to sell the property rather than landmark the home, and have withdrawn their demolition application.
Nevertheless, in the event that this draft ordinance was adopted, the Wallace Neff home on Linden will likely be exempted in any number of ways, including that it may not fit the new definition of “integrity” as a result of unpermitted demolition of key Neff landscape features by the current owners.
CHC commissioners continue to meet with PC members to tweak the ordinance. The draft ordinance will be discussed at the Planning Commission meeting on Nov. 13 at 1:30 p.m. and a special Cultural Heritage meeting on Mon., Nov. 17 at 4 p.m. at City Hall.