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Burbank takes more measured approach to establishing historic districts

July 13, 2012|By Mark Kellam, mark.kellam@latimes.com

The City Council this week avoided making Burbank one the hardest cities in the Southland in which to establish residential historic districts, instead setting the ultimate threshold for buy-in among affected property owners at a simple majority.

The 3-2 vote on Tuesday went against a Planning Board recommendation to require that three-fourths of affected homeowners sign off on a proposed historic district before it comes before the City Council for approval.

The new law, which is in line with what city planners initially proposed, follows in the footsteps of most other cities, including Glendale, Glendora, Pasadena and South Pasadena, and also would only require that 25% of affected homeowners sign off on starting the application process.

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Councilwoman Emily Gabel-Luddy, herself a former high-ranking Los Angeles planning official, said she disagreed with the Planning Board’s recommendation, saying it gave too much power to a small minority of stakeholders.

“I think that’s too high of a threshold,” she said of the three-fourths buy-in, adding that she spoke with presidents of both the Planning Board and Heritage Commission, which unanimously approved the original version of the amendment. “A small percentage of people can defeat the overall intent of a [historic] district.”

More than 15 people spoke in favor of the original staff recommendation, including Marcello Vavala, a preservation associate with the L.A. Conservancy.

He pointed out that three cities in L.A. County — Los Angeles, West Hollywood and Whittier — don’t even require property-owner support to move forward with formation of a historic district.

In addition to the required homeowner support, the process in Burbank will include a historic review by consultants to verify that 60% of the structures in the proposed district are historically significant.

Some concerns have been raised over how a district would impact structures not deemed historically significant, also called non-contributing structures.

If the owner of a non-contributing structure wants to build a second-story addition or a new primary dwelling on the property, that person would need to go before the Heritage Commission for a review.

“This is not a detailed design review kind of process. This is a compatibility review,” Gabel-Luddy said. That kind of review includes “exactly the findings that we make as council when we consider large homes or homes that may affect views,” she added.

Associate city planner Amanda Landry said focusing on structures that aren’t historically significant is important.

“The modifications that can be made to non-contributing structures have the potential to greatly influence the overall historic significance and quality and integrity of the historic district,” she said.

Mayor Dave Golonski unsuccessfully suggested that instead of approving the 75% support level, the City Council lower the required approval to 62.5%.

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