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Our View: The splintered results of ‘opt in’ preservation

Posted: July 13, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 13, 2014 2:00 a.m.
 

The destruction of a 100-year-old former Newhall school building has caused quite a stir within the historic preservation community in Santa Clarita.

The razing of the building was perfectly legal. The developer who had the building torn down, as well as the city’s Planning Department, did nothing wrong.

The building was not on any historic preservation list, and nothing had been done with the building for many years.

But the tearing down of the former school illustrates that the city of Santa Clarita’s historic preservation strategy still needs some fine-tuning.

The current historic preservation ordinance, revised in 2013, was passed by the City Council in an attempt to balance the rights of property owners with the public interest of preserving historical structures.

There is a list of structures that are deemed historic in town, but other than that the ordinance allows the owners of other property to “opt in” to the ordinance, giving them a choice on whether they want to seek historic designation for their properties.

If they do so the city would give them some perks such as fee waivers and a streamlined permitting process.

That’s it. That’s the historic preservation ordinance. Property owners don’t have to adhere to it if they don’t want to.
If the city is serious about preserving historic structures, it needs to provide a better mechanism for consideration of the historical status of buildings.

Perhaps this means having, in addition to the official historic structure list, another “B” list of buildings that may be considered historic and should get closer scrutiny by the city if significant changes are proposed to the property.

Perhaps a grandfather clause could be put into this “B” list so that only future owners of the structures would need to adhere to this closer scrutiny.

Obviously, this would be far from perfect, but it would allow a framework for discussion about the status of older buildings within the city.

You can’t go halfway in historic preservation. We either need a more detailed strategy for preservation that prevents buildings such as the old Newhall school from falling through the cracks — or we need to decide historic structures aren’t important and quit complaining when they fall to the wrecking ball.

 

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