Ordinance would create architectural and preservation commission

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

Last week the Claremont Architectural Commission signed off on a prospective ordinance that, if approved by both the Claremont Planning Commission and the City Council, will alter the design review process for many construction projects in town.

The proposed ordinance would modify the duties of the architectural commission by adding “cultural resource preservation” to the design review process when a site of historical or cultural significance could be affected by a development.

The Cultural Resource Preservation Ordinance would apply citywide to “all properties, structures, landscapes and sites that are listed on the local, state, or national register for historic or cultural resources.” To recognize its new duties the name of the commission will be changed to the Claremont Architectural and Preservation Commission.

“A cultural resource can be any historic, prehistoric, built, and natural resource that is significant in the history of a city, region, state, or nation. Cultural resources can be man-made or natural features and include buildings, non-habitable structures or objects, sites of historic events, land formations, heritage trees, historic districts, and more,” according to the staff report.

The seed that would become the preservation ordinance began with the council’s priorities workshop in 2017, during which an ad hoc committee was formed to consider design guidelines and historic preservation that could be applied to neighborhoods across the entire city.

For decades the job of protecting historic structures was the purview of the architectural commission, Claremont Heritage and individual property owners who saw the benefit of preserving their homes. Since 2014 the Los Angeles Conservancy has given the city an A+ rating for its efforts to preserve its physical history.

Claremont Heritage was formed in 1976 and with it came the Register of Structures of Historic Merit in Claremont. Historic preservation has evolved over the years, however, there are just three neighborhoods where zoning seeks to preserve and retain the historic character: the Village, the city’s commercial core; historic Claremont, the residential neighborhood north of the Village; and Arbol Verde off Mills Avenue and First Street.

“Historic preservation continues to be consistently identified as a core value for many in our community. Preserving our cultural and historic resources was recently reaffirmed as one of seven City Council 2024-2026 Priorities,” according to the staff report.

Owner consent was never required to place a home on the register, but that has seldom been an issue simply because a structure included on the list can still be altered or torn down. While the new preservation ordinance does not require the current owner’s permission, they will be notified and can address the commission about being included on the register or appeal to the City Council.

According to planning staff, one of the primary benefits of being formally designated as a cultural resource will be the ability for the structure to qualify for the Mills Act, which curtails property taxes as long as the structure is preserved.

One of the tools in preserving the city’s cultural resources has been the design review process. However, the trend over the past few years has been toward the state of California curtailing local governments from making subjective decisions about developments.

“With the recent passage of several State laws designed to spur new housing and denser development, the City is being increasingly required to utilize only subjective criteria in reviewing new development. Preservation Ordinances can be a helpful tool to retain some local control over our most important cultural resources,” read to the staff report.

The next step for the preservation ordinance will be a 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 5 review by the planning commission at Council Chambers, 225 Second St. Depending on that commission’s decision the ordinance could be placed on a future City Council agenda.


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