New fee ensures historic homes meet city standards

Historic homeowners in Claremont looking to apply for the city’s Mills Act tax abatement program will now be subject to yearly fees.

The annual $217 expense is just one of several changes to the program’s criteria and procedures unanimously approved by the Claremont City Council last week. The changes were enacted after a resolution drafted by the architectural commission in September.

Through the newly-introduced fees, given support by Claremont Heritage, city officials hope to make up for costs associated with the staff time used in annual reviews of the historic homes on contract.

“There is no mechanism for recovering the costs right now,” said associate planner Joanne Hwang, who estimated 2.2 hours of staff time per review.

Through the Mills Act, enacted statewide in 1972, owners of eligible historic homes may enter into a property agreement with the city to preserve and maintain their homes. Those accepted into the program are granted a property tax deduction. Each local government establishes its own criteria for participation in the city Mills Act program. In 2000, the city of Claremont contracted with those homeowners who had a historic home in danger of deterioration or demolition. The criteria were expanded in 2009 to include all homes listed on the city’s historic register, which includes about 500 single-family residences.

Though participants will now be subject to new costs, the benefits continue to make the program a profitable venture for eligible homeowners, according to Ms. Hwang. The application is hardly a deterrent as members of the program receive an estimated $4000 in property tax savings, she says.

In addition to approving the new application fee, the council made several changes to qualifying criteria for the program. In order to apply in the past, homeowners were required to propose a list of “significant improvements” to the home that would not impact the “architectural, historical or aesthetic integrity.” However, many found the term very subjective, according to Ms. Hwang.

“It does not provide a clear guideline,” she said.

The adopted resolution separates the term “significant improvements” into 2 categories to clear confusion. Improvements must now be both quantitative and qualitative: the cost of improvements must match the tax savings to be received in the first 10 years of the program contract and will not include minor or routine fixes like tree trimming, replacement of a water heater or air-conditioning unit, etc.

Owners will also now be notified when the application review exceeds $1000, instead of the previous cap of $1500.

“This is consistent with the current practice,” Ms. Hwang said.

Other updates include providing applications with more general information such as how the program deposit will work, and the option of opting out of the application process.

For more on the Mills Act or for an application for the program, visit the city’s website at www.ci.claremont.ca.us or call 399-5460. 

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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