Design panel OKs draft plan for preservation
Sonoma – a city with rich concentrations of historic resources – took a giant step forward Oct. 30 when the Design Review Commission approved a draft Historic Preservation Plan and forwarded it to the City Council.
The plan, and its requisite ordinance amendments, will give Sonoma a formal way to evaluate the significance of historic structures proposed for alteration or demolition, and will open doors to grant programs previously unavailable.
“The objective is to achieve Certified Local Government (CLG) status,” said David Goodison, Sonoma planning director. “This would ensure that local policies and programs, with respect to historic preservation, are comprehensive,
consistent with best practices and in compliance with state and federal law.”
The certification is conferred by the State Office of Historic Preservation in partnership with the National Park Service. Cities with the designation are required to have a system to survey and inventory historic resources, a historic preservation review commission, a local preservation ordinance consistent with National Historic Preservation Act and a local preservation plan. Once these components are in place, the state agency confers the certification and annually reviews compliance.
Goodison reviewed the plan, the draft ordinance and various changes to code sections already in place.He said the DRC’s charter would be updated to include new duties related to administering the preservation plan and ordinance.
Several commissioners asked if costs would be increased for property owners seeking to alter or demolish buildings. Goodison responded that the city already requires applicants to submit reports evaluating significance and if a building is found to be significant, any alterations must comply with the Secretary of the Interior’s standards. In this respect, there would be no added costs. If the city prepared a Historic Preservation Element to the General Plan – an option for CLGs – costs would be incurred, but not for private owners.
“We are thrilled this is happening,” said Loyce Haran, former president of the League for Historic Preservation. “It will simplify the process for preserving historic structures. It will make a difference.” She said the league is updating the Inventory of Historic Resources, which is the baseline document the city uses when identifying significant buildings. Goodison indicated this document would most likely be used as the official inventory attached to the Plan.
The league sent a formal letter outlining several sections to be re-examined. Included were several changes which clarified the DRC’s role in commenting on properties nominated to the National Register, the use of language specifying the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards as the guidelines for rehabilitation projects, the use of the same terms that are used in National Register Bulletins to avoid confusion, and references to CEQA to be included where applicable in the commission’s duty descriptions. The letter also suggested that criteria for designating historic resources be consistent with state and national criteria, and that the name of the Commission be changed to reflect its expanded role.
City historian George McHale applauded the plan and its 14 goals which are in the form of a “to do list” that will be implemented as resources are available. “Even if the CLG doesn’t happen, we should keep the goals,” he said. His only concerns were that there should be more involvement of Native Americans and archeological resources should also be inventoried.
“No one on the commission is against historic preservation,” said commission Chairman Tom Anderson. “I have seen applicants willing to participate and cooperate to keep history in place in our community. This codifies a lot of what we do now.”
Goodison said the next steps in the process will be forwarding the commission’s comments and approval to the City Council. If the plan is adopted at that level, and direction is given to move forward, ordinance and code amendments can be prepared. In the meantime, an application for Certified Local Government approval can be submitted to the OHP.
“This is still in bare bones stage,” said Goodison, “It’s a beginning. It provides a framework for moving forward and the ‘to do list’ will be adopted as part of the process.”
The CLG program was adopted by the state in 1980 as a means to determine who would receive grant money that comes from the federal government annually. While amounts are small, they are often used by local governments for studies or upgrades.