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Rules could change for historic homes

Posted: July 17, 2008 1:41 a.m.
Updated: September 17, 2008 5:03 a.m.
Few would argue that protecting historic sites is a bad thing, but when one of the historic sites is your house, the issue is a bit more prickly.

“I’m a bit offended by someone telling me what I can and can’t do,” homeowner Molly Hodson told city planning commissioners Tuesday as they considered a proposal that would require property owners to get a permit before making any major changes to their property if it’s on the city’s list of 64 historic sites.

“I was never a proponent of private property rights until I became enmeshed in this,” she said.

The historic site list includes the Saugus Train Station, the Pardee House and the old jailhouse on Spruce Street in downtown Newhall.

But also on the list are Newhall’s oldest homes. Hodson’s house on Market Street was built in 1913 and is included on the list. No one famous ever lived there, and it has no historic significance other than it’s old, she said.

“If you have property listed because of its age, hell, I’m old. Put me on the list,” she said.

She said she has no plans to modify her house. But it’s the principle of the thing.

Under the proposal, demolition requests would require approval of the Planning Commission. If a property owner wanted to make any modifications that would affect the historical significance of their structure, they would need to apply for a minor use permit subject to the approval of the city’s director of Community Development. Minor use permits cost about $2,300.

If a property owner doesn’t get the appropriate permits prior to demolition, the city would deny the property owner any requests for building, construction and use permits for 10 years.

Minor changes like replacing carpeting, hardwood flooring, countertops and shelving are excluded from the requirement.

City planners combined the historic site lists from the city’s General Plan as well as the Downtown Newhall Specific Plan. The lists were compiled by a consultant.

“Once you get on the list, it’s like the kiss of death,” said Norman Harris, who has a house on Eighth Street in Newhall.

He said the proposal imposes “drastic penalties instead of positive incentives.”

The proposal did get the support of historians who said other cities have stricter ordinances in place to preserve their most precious sites.

“We have to look at the greater good of the community as a whole,” said Alan Pollack, president of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society. “We cannot afford to lose anymore historic buildings in Santa Clarita. Once we lose them, we can never get them back.”

The proposed changes to the city’s Unified Development Code would be in effect for three years while city officials work on a more comprehensive historic preservation program and create a permanent ordinance.

Planning commissioners recommended that the City Council adopt the proposal, but offer a fee waiver for those living on their historic site. Commissioners also asked that staff come up with a permanent ordinance sooner than three years from now.


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