BY DAVE SCHWAB
About 50 people attending a public workshop sponsored by La Jolla Historical Society at Wisteria Cottage last Saturday learned about the process for, and benefits of, having their homes designated as historic.
Presentations were made during the three-hour workshop by society president Connie Branscomb and acting and retired city of San Diego planners Kelley Stanco, moderator Angeles Liera and Diane Kane. La Jolla architect Ione Stiegler and La Jolla historic real estate specialist Linda Marrone also spoke.
Branscomb noted 977 homes have been historically designated in San Diego since 1967. “Approximately 100 of those are in La Jolla,” she said. “We’re here today to encourage more in La Jolla.”
Branscomb added there are several hundred other homes in La Jolla that could be eligible for historical designation.
San Diego senior planner Kelley Stanco defined what the city considers to be a historical resource — "any improvement building, structure, sign, interior element, fixture, feature, site, place or object."
Those wanting something historically designated need to formally apply to the city’s 11-member Historical Resources Board to be considered for eligibility. To be eligible, one of the following criterion must be met: They exemplify special elements of a city’s, community’s or neighborhood’s architectural development; they’re identified with signficant persons or events in local, state or national history; they embody distinctive characteristics of a style, type, period or method of construction; are representative of the notable work of a master builder, designer, architect, engineer, landscape architect, interior designer, artist or craftsman; are listed or have been determined eligible by the National Park Service for listing on the National Register of Historic Places or is listed or has been determined eligible by the State Historical Preservation Office for listing on the State Register of Historical Resources; is part of a finite group of resources related to one another in a clearly distinguishable way or is a geographically definable area or neighborhood containing improvements which have a special character, historical interest or aesthetic value in the history and development of the city.
Marrone said it presently takes 18 to 24 months for an application for historic designation to be considered and approved. Homes successfully designated can then apply for property tax breaks under the Mills Act.
“It’s done in two phases,” she said. “The historical designation is completely separate from the application for the Mills Act benefit, which can take upwards of another year before it kicks in after you’re historically designated.”
Marrone said the amount of property tax savings under the Mills Act can vary from 20 percent to 80 percent based on the property’s assessed value according to a formula considering what income would be derived from the property if it were rented.
Under the terms of the Mills Act, Marrone said those benefiting from tax breaks must demonstrate they are reinvesting some of their savings into their property, which requires them to submit to periodic city inspection to ensure compliance.
Architect Stiegler said regulations pertaining to historically designated properties permit four distinct “treatments” — ways for them to be altered, while preserving their historical integrity.
“The four treatments approved for historical resources are restoration, rehabilitation, preservation and reconstruction,” she said. “Rehabilitation, reuse, is taking an old building and either reusing it as it was used in the past, or finding a new use for it requiring minimal rework of the building. Any new work (additions) that you do needs to be respectful of the existing building in massing, scale and materials.”
Branscomb said the Society’s first historic designation workshop was so popular and successful that another one will be held again next year.