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City looks to form historic districts

The districts would protect neighborhood character and offer collective benefits, experts say.

March 06, 2012|By Mark Kellam, mark.kellam@latimes.com

Preservationists say that Burbank is doing just a marginal job of preserving its history. But recent efforts to change that are improving its grade, they say.

A representative from the Los Angeles Conservancy this week said Burbank’s efforts to preserve its architecture has been at about the C- level. But that will likely improve as the city’s Heritage Commission moves closer to adopting a process for forming historic districts.

Marcello Vavala, a preservation associate with the Los Angeles Conservancy, spoke to the commission last week and said the city has been doing a better job of stirring up interest in preserving Burbank’s architectural legacy.

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So far, just two houses that have been designated as landmarks through a city ordinance that was passed in 1994.

While not many homes have been submitted for the historical registry, there has been more interest in the past several months because of increased outreach efforts by the commission, which may improve Burbank’s standing in the preservation community, Vavala said.

Besides, he added, “half the cities in Los Angeles County get an F.”

The Commission plans to hold community workshops in the next several months to educate residents about the historic preservation ordinance.

“People are still afraid they’re going to lose all their rights,” Heritage Commission President Don Baldaseroni said.

Historic districts — which have caught on with gusto in neighboring Glendale — bring many benefits, including protecting the unique character of a neighborhood and enhancing property values, Vavala said.

It also allows for design standards that will guide the building of new homes in the district, or renovations to existing structures that are not considered “contributors” to the historic significance of the area.

“Certainly, there are a lot of great homes scattered through cities throughout the county, but there’s no assurance that five years after you move in, a ‘McMansion’ might go up across the street, which will perhaps lower property values,” Vavala said.

Owners of historic homes also can apply for property tax relief under the state Mills Act. In Burbank, the city can approve up to three applications annually and has a $30,000 annual cap on the amount of property taxes it will forego.

Some homeowners could save up to two-thirds on their property taxes under the Mills Act, according to Amanda Landry, associate planner for the city.

Historic districts can also help some homeowners because it lets them band together.

For example, a house may be too modest to qualify on its own, but if it’s in a neighborhood with other modest houses that have significant, distinct architecture, it may qualify as part of a collective effort.

There has been some interest in creating at least one historic district in Burbank.

Greg Rehner and Kirk Solomon, owners of the first historic designation at 902 E. Olive Ave., have been leading a group of residents to form a historic district in their hillside neighborhood, Baldaseroni said. Some of the houses there date back to the early 20th century.

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