Plan to create several new historic districts near Balboa Park faces criticism, calls for reform

  • San Diego last year began work on a plan to create 13 new historic districts near Balboa Park.
  • Some homeowners are complaining the districts restrict renovations they can make to their properties.
  • City Council members say the process for creating the districts is flawed and they want changes.

San Diego’s plan to preserve older homes near Balboa Park by creating 13 new historic districts is off to a rough start, with City Council members criticizing the process and some homeowners balking at new restrictions that limit renovations.

Supporters say creating the new districts and curbing renovations of as many as 1,650 homes in North Park, South Park and Golden Hill will preserve San Diego’s architectural and cultural past while boosting community identity and character.

Critics say the new districts limit or prohibit ordinary renovations like adding double-paned windows and building a new front porch, and they complain the city’s procedures for designating homes historic hasn’t been transparent or fair.

With three of the new historic districts already created, including two that were finalized last week, Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s staff says he’s open to revamping the process as city planners prepare to tackle the remaining 10 districts.

City Council members and homeowners in the new districts are criticizing how the city has gone about designating homes historic.

When updating growth blueprints in 2016 for North Park and Golden Hill, city officials surveyed the affected neighborhoods and designated 1,650 properties as being located in 13 separate historic districts city officials decided to create.

City officials then committed to a six-year plan to steadily create the districts, which will nearly double the number of such zones in the city.

They didn’t notify homeowners that they were launching such a campaign. As a result, only residents in the three districts recently created have received official notice about new restrictions on renovations and other changes they might want to make to their properties, such as demolition.

Homeowners in the three new areas that have been designated historic – the 14-home Spalding Place district and the 90-home Valle Vista Terrace district in North Park, and the 385-home South Park district – received notifications last year about the process.

After public workshops were held, city officials designated properties within each district as either “contributing” to the historic character, which comes with a long list of restrictions, or “non-contributing,” which gives homeowners more leeway.

For example, the city designated 66 homes as contributing in Valle Vista Terrace, a neighborhood southwest of the Interstate 8/Interstate 805 interchange located on bluffs overlooking Mission Valley. The city designated 24 homes there non-contributing.

Then a final decision on the proposed districts and individual property designations was made by the city’s Historical Resources Board, a group of volunteers appointed by Faulconer.

The board created the Spalding Place district in July, and then created the Valle Vista Terrace district and the South Park district in November.

Appeals by angry residents delayed finalization of the Valle Vista Terrace and South Park districts until Tuesday, when City Council members rejected appeals from all but one homeowner after complaining they essentially had no choice.

The only grounds for a successful appeal are a factual error by the city, a violation of the bylaws of the Historical Resources Board or new information related to the historic designation.

“Something needs to change about how this is happening,” Councilman David Alvarez of Logan Heights said during the meeting.

Councilwoman Lorie Zapf of Bay Ho said she would like to see property owners engaged earlier in the process, which could allow the community to come together and decide which properties should be designated historic.

“You’re the property owner – you should know what’s going on and be involved in it,” she said.

Councilman Scott Sherman of Allied Gardens directed his frustration at the Historical Resources Board.

“I really have issues with a non-elected board telling me what property rights I do and don’t have,” he said.

Those comments came after the homeowners who filed appeals pleaded their case to the council.

“The HRB failed to adequately evaluate my home,” resident Marcy Alyn said. “Various changes to the home’s exterior have significantly altered its appearance. I support my neighbors who want to be part of this historic district, but I must ask that my property be designated as non-contributing.”

Kathleen Hay said the regulations are so complex that the city is discriminating against homeowners who can’t afford a land-use attorney, and also complained that homeowners like herself should have had more input.

“The HRB’s process is flawed and suffers from a lack of transparency and accountability,” she said.

Similar turbulence could be coming in the 10 additional districts the city plans to create over the next five years.

They are:

  • the 36-home Park Boulevard Apartments Historic District and a 26-home expansion of the Shirley Ann Place district in 2018.
  • the 245-home Culverwell & Taggart's district and the 48-home Park Villas district in 2019.
  • the 400-home Altadena district and the 20-home Kalmia Place district in 2020.
  • the 45-home 28th Street district in 2021 and the 135-home St. Louis Heights district in 2021
  • the 128-home 30th Street Commercial district and the 82-home Wabash Mesa district in 2022.

For details on the districts, visit sandiego.gov/planning/programs/historicpreservationplanning/historicdistricts.

Some other critics say the city should abandon the campaign to create more historic districts entirely, contending that preventing property owners from expanding their homes will only worsen San Diego’s severe housing shortage.

Others say the new districts will hurt the city financially because owners of historic homes are eligible for property tax reductions under the state’s Mills Act, a law that aims to compensate them for efforts to preserve the historic homes.

Supporters say the city will recoup much of that money because property values typically rise in historic neighborhoods due to the character and ambience the homes create.

Regarding the housing shortage, supporters say the new historic designations are the result of revised growth blueprints for each of the neighborhoods adopted in 2016 that make up for the lack of growth in historic areas by allowing dense housing projects in other places.

“This was a trade-off,” said Vicki Granowitz, a member of the city’s Planning Commission and the longtime leader of the North Park Community Planning Group. “I promise you that.”

Marshall Anderson, Mayor Faulconer’s director of council affairs, told the council last week that Faulconer and his staff are open to evaluating the process and possibly making changes.

david.garrick@sduniontribune.com (619) 269-8906 Twitter:@UTDavidGarrick

Copyright © 2018, Del Mar Times
72°