Village Matters

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Not Like Every Other Place

By Ann Christoph
By Ann Christoph

“It seems to me that being quirky and non-conforming is essential to what we like about Laguna. It’s not like every other place, and we love it because of that, ” mused a Laguna Canyon resident who has been attending the city’s neighborhood planning meetings. “But,” he went on, “it seems like at every turn there are forces at work to make it more standardized, more ‘normal,’ more like all the places that don’t have Laguna’s magic.”

Indeed. Those forces come from agencies that control their section of our community environment with an emphasis on worst-case scenarios and lawsuits. It’s difficult for these entities to balance their regulations within the overlay of Laguna’s charm and history.

Those of us who have been through city building processes know how requirements, however well intentioned, can make problems with existing buildings difficult to solve, and sometimes the required solutions do take away from the creative, the unconventional, the Lagunesque. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can provide special standards and exemptions for our old and treasured buildings.

What if, when you added on you could match the setbacks of the house you have instead of having to jog in to meet the present code’s wider setback requirements?

How does the new requirement of 42” high railing look next to the much lower one on your 1930s or ‘40s house? Can’t we make details like these consistent with the old ones?

Then there are the frequently complained about windows. Can we keep the single panes we have instead of the modern double panes now required? Saving not only the cost but the character of the building too?

What if property taxes were reduced as an acknowledgement of your commitment to saving your Laguna charmer?

All these are possible…

The California Historic Building Code recognizes the unique construction issues inherent in historical restoration work and it provides alternative building regulations for qualified historical buildings. This means that items that don’t meet today’s codes can still be approved by the building official if the deviation is important to the preservation of the character of the building.

The city’s historic preservation ordinance provides for setback flexibility, not only on the sides, but in the rear where additions can be made without affecting the historic character of the front/street view of the building.

The state’s Mills Act provides property tax reductions for qualified historic structures.

An effective program with flexibility and benefits built in can all be provided for in the historic preservation ordinance now being considered by the Planning Commission. Some speakers at these meetings would dismantle our program by reducing the number of properties considered historic and invalidating our present list of eligible buildings. With this approach, many owners of potentially historic properties would not be able to take advantage of the flexibility and incentives that can be offered. Opportunities for preservation would be lost and the pressures for ever-larger new buildings could overwhelm our neighborhoods.

Instead let’s be sure that the ordinance outlines effective and clear procedures, makes it easier for owners to maintain and add on to their buildings while preserving their historic character, and provides the benefits and recognition their owners deserve.

An effective historic preservation program provides benefits to the property owners and the community as a whole. We can live within the framework of the modest cottage, the creative and unusual building, the places where artists like Kleitsch, Cuprien and Wendt painted their plein air masterpieces. We can still read Laguna’s history as expressed in our historic buildings. This is all part of Laguna’s being unlike any other place, a place with unique magic, one that we can all save and savor together.


Landscape architect Ann Christoph is a former council member.












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