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Mayor Bates Weighs In on Landmarks Law By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday December 02, 2005

The dividing lines in the political struggle over the future of Berkeley’s Landmarks Preservation Ordinance (LPO) grew clearer at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting when Mayor Tom Bates offered a 10-page “Draft for Discussion” of his own. It is not a draft of ordinance language, but simply a conceptual proposal. 

“[W]e are trying to find a new path that recognizes the importance of protecting neighborhood character but acknowledges that it is sometimes a different issue than historic preservation,” wrote the mayor. 

The mayor portrayed his proposal as an attempt to bridge two competing drafts of a revised ordinance—one endorsed by the Planning Commission, the other by the LPC. Lesley Emmington, an LPC member and an employee of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, was skeptical. 

Emmington attended the Tuesday night council meeting, watching as Bates outlined his ideas, aided by a Power Point presentation. 

“This is a memorandum,” she said Thursday of the 10-page document Bates presented to fellow councilmembers Thursday night. “The mayor makes some proposals and some of them appear to be contradictory to our current ordinance, which the State Office of Historic Preservation has praised as a strong ordinance.” 

Bates sided with the Planning Commission on the contentious issue of “structures of merit,” a category of landmarking designation that recognizes significant original architectural features in buildings which may have altered over the years. 

Under the Bates proposal, the “structure of merit” designation would be eliminated, although existing buildings with the designation would be afford the same protections as landmarks, the one remaining building category. 

Bates proposed another category—perhaps modeled on Santa Monica’s “Points of Interest” designation—that would confer no special protection. 

The mayor also sided with the Planning Commission’s proposal that the LPC should not determine the level of environmental review required for designated buildings or districts, though requiring ZAB to take the LPC’s concerns into account. 

Emmington, however, felt that environmental decisions involving historic buildings are properly the concern of the LPC, the only city agency required to have expertise in historic issues. 

She reserved judgment on another of the mayor’s ideas—creation of a city historic preservation officer who would serve as staff to the LPC and, possibly, have say over “minor” alteration permits for designated landmarks. 

Another mayoral suggestion would have the city formally adopting the California Register of Historical Resources standard of architectural integrity—a key element in determining landmarking eligibility—leaving it open for the LPC to adopt other standards “unique to the City of Berkeley.” 

Bates also proposed that the city survey the city for historic buildings, starting with the expanded downtown area now being planned according to the terms of the settlement of the city’s suit against UC Berkeley over the university’s Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) through 2020. 

The basis of the survey would be a similar document prepared for the city’s 1990 Downtown Plan, which covered a smaller area than the new planning effort. 

Bates’s suggested areas for short term surveys included the city’s major current and potential development hotspots, including West Berkeley and the cities major corridors, including University, San Pablo, Shattuck, Telegraph and Solano avenues, as well as Gilman and Adeline streets and the Elmwood district. 

The mayor is pushing for increased commercial development in West Berkeley along the Ashby and University Avenue corridors and along Gilman streets, in part to keep car dealers—and the lucrative sales tax dollars they bring—from leaving city. 

Bates endorsed one of the most disputed proposals to emerge during discussions of the alternative ordinances—the so-called “Request for Determination” to see if a property is a potential landmark. 

Single family home and duplex owners could file a simple request, listing only the date of construction, the architect’s name and a photo of the building’s front facade. 

Once a request was filed, the LPC would have two consecutive meetings to initiate a designation. If the commission took no action or declined to initiate at the second meeting, members of the public would have ten more days to file their own petition. If no one did, no landmark petitions could be filed for the following year unless the owner filed for a demolition permit 

Owners of larger properties would have to file a more detailed historical assessment, following the same timetable. They could employ professional experts to carry out their study. 

If an initiation petition were filed, the LPC would have 70 days after the second meeting to schedule a public hearing on the designation and 250 days in which to act. If the property was not designated, under the Bates proposal no other application for designation could be filed for two years unless a demolition permit were sought. 

Critics fear the process could pave the way for developers to threaten structures commissioners or the public did not have time to investigate thoroughly. 

Other issues involve timelines, and whether or not a landmarking determination and subsequent review is or is not exempt from the state Permit Streamlining Act—the very law that prompted the proposed revisions. 

The council approved a Jan. 17 workshop meeting to discuss the conflicting proposals.Ã