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Planners approve code changes for Historic Preservation

By Pam Gibson/Special to the Index-Tribune

The City of Sonoma is close to becoming a Certified Local Government. The Planning Commission Thursday approved proposed changes to the Sonoma Municipal Code related to strengthening rules regarding historic preservation, a necessary step to gain the designation.

With these ordinance amendments, Sonoma will have a formal way to evaluate the significance of historic structures proposed for alteration or demolition, will open doors to grant programs previously unavailable, will qualify for specialized training of its commissioners and will get help from the State in developing programs to provide incentives for preservation.

“I feel this is the best thing to do to preserve our historic past,” said Loyce Haran, a past president of the Sonoma League for Historic Preservation.

The certification is conferred by the State Office of Historic Preservation in partnership with the National Park Service. In order to get it, cities must do the following:

• Enforce appropriate state and local laws and regulations for the designation and protection of historic properties.

• Establish an historic preservation review commission by local ordinance.

• Maintain a system for the survey and inventory of historic properties.

• Provide for public participation in the local preservation program

• Satisfactorily perform responsibilities delegated to it by the state.

The City has complied with most of the requirements, but a few additional actions were required. The changes approved by the commission included changing the charter of the Design Review Commission to include new duties related to administering the preservation plan and ordinance, expressly using the Secretary of the Interior’s guidelines when allowing historic properties to be altered, and adopting a formal process for designating a building “historic” at the local level of significance.

City Planner David Goodison said the State wants DRC commissioners to have certain areas of expertise, but recognizes that small towns don’t have a large pool from which to draw.

Formal adoption will go to the City Council and then back to the State Office of Historic Preservation, which gives final approval.