Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

City Proposes Changes to HPOZ Ordinance


It’s a busy time for the City Planning Department these days.  In addition to revisions to the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance, considerations of new ICOs and HPOZs in our area, the roll-out of new R1 designations for current ICO neighborhoods, new Transit Neighborhood Plans, and an ever-increasing stream of development applications…the department is now also considering revisions to its Historic Preservation Overlay Zone ordinance, which governs how HPOZs are run and how rules are established for HPOZ neighborhoods.

At a community workshop and hearing on Saturday, July 9 (the second of two such sessions last week), Senior Planner Phyllis Nathanson presented a summary of the proposed changes, which address five major elements of the current law.  Briefly, they include:

1. Allow a single HPOZ board to serve multiple HPOZs.
The current ordinance requires that each Preservation Zone have a unique Board to administer the Preservation Plan. The new version would allow two or more HPOZs to share an administrative board, but boards that currently serve single HPOZs would be unaffected.

2. Clarify the procedures for the technical correction of a historic resources survey.
Currently, an application to correct technical errors or omissions in a Historic Resources Survey requires a hearing before the Cultural Heritage Commission (CHC). Under the proposed revisions, a CHC Designee could provide a recommendation to the Director of Planning, without a formal hearing. Clarifications are also proposed to application standards, and a fee is being added for owner-initiated corrections.

3. Create more proportional thresholds.
In the current HPOZ Ordinance, larger projects or more significant alterations require “Certificate” approval, while smaller projects have a more expedited path, called “Conforming Work.” The proposed amendment would further divide Conforming Work into Minor and Major Conforming Work, so normal maintenance, rehabilitation, and restoration projects could proceed more efficiently. There would continue to be no application fee for Minor Conforming Work.

More elective, applicant-initiated projects that require more intensive staff review, such as small additions, construction of small structures, modifications to accessory structures, and the resolution of code enforcement orders, would now be classified as Major Conforming Work, with an application fee set at a level lower than the fees for “Certificate” applications (currently $708 to $1706).

Also, the existing ordinance restricts Conforming Work for Contributing Elements to additions under 250 square-feet, and requires larger additions and all new structures to be processed under a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA), even if they are not visible from the street. However, because even small additions in small structures can represent a significant increase in the overall building size, the proposed amendment replaces the flat 250 sq. ft. threshold with a proportional approach: non-visible additions and new construction that result in a less than 20% increase of the building coverage could be processed as Major Conforming Work. The construction of accessory structures and the demolition of accessory structures verified as non-historic are would also qualify as Conforming Work.

4. Improve Regulations for Non-Contributing Properties
The current ordinance requires that almost all Conforming Work on Non-Contributing features be “signed-off” or approved. But the lack of review authority and design standards has resulted in projects that can damage the overall historic character of HPOZ neighborhoods. The proposed amendments would fix this by
enabling the HPOZ Board to review projects affecting Non-Contributing Elements for conformity with the Preservation Plan and allowing for design guidelines for alterations to Non-Contributing Elements, which will still provide greater leeway for changes than on projects affecting Contributing Elements. If a project did not conform, then the Conforming Work would be denied and a Certificate of Compatibility (CCMP) could be pursued

5. Address Demolition without Permit
In the aftermath of recent demolitions without permits in HPOZs, the amendments seek to create a clearer procedure for responding to unpermitted demolition or relocation. To clarify what constitutes demolition, a definition would also be included for the first time. In addition, the new ordinance creates a procedure under which the Department of City Planning would document for the Department of Building and Safety the lost historic features and recommend any remaining historic features that should be retained. The Department of Building and Safety could then use this evaluation in addressing appropriate enforcement measures and potential penalties.

Finally, the proposed amendments also clarify that if demolition has occurred without permit, then a standard COA or CCMP should be pursued, since the standards for a Certificate of Appropriateness for Demolition, Removal, or Relocation cannot be applied to a structure that no longer exists.

In a public comment period following the presentation of the proposed changes, 10 people, all residents of HPOZs active in their management, spoke up in favor of the proposed amendments…although most also felt that the proposals don’t go quite far enough. Their concerns and suggestions included:

      • That more guidance should be provided on what HPOZ neighborhood Preservation Plans say about non-contributing structures.
      • There should be an acknowledgement in the guidelines (which there is not currently) that non-contributing structures can be turned back into contributing structures (and advice for how to do that).
      • That fees should be waived, or grants given, to encourage turning non-contributors back into contributors, especially in low-income areas. (In other words, reward the process instead of discouraging it.)
      • That official minutes of all HPOZ board meetings be kept and publicly posted, and that pointers to relevant sections of the neighborhood preservation plan be cited in the minutes.
      • In addition to property owners, the HPOZ board or Office of Historic Resources should also be able to initiate efforts to reclassify non-contributors as contributors.
      • The required completion period for minor and major conforming work should be different, and minor work should be expedited as much as possible, since it’s often just necessary maintenance and repairs.
      • Support for a new definition of the word “demolition” (there is none in the current ordinance), but a request that the 50% threshold be less if fire or other disaster is involved.
      • That vacancies on HPOZ board should be required to be filled within a specific time frame, to help the board maintain its ability to achieve a quorum.
      • That houses struck by disaster NOT be exempted from preservation rules because that’s exactly when a property “is at its most vulnerable.”
      • That a comprehensive preservation plan be developed for disaster-struck historic properties, and that it be used to coordinate service from all city agencies in the event of a disaster.
      • That the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation be included in every local preservation plan, for easy reference.
      • That there should be a rule from preventing a decision on any one entitlement application for a property until all applications affecting a specific project are filed.
      • That the rules coordinate in some way with CEQA standards.
      • That “mixed use” structures be included in the types of properties covered by the rules.
      • Even if applications for conforming work are delegated to staff to expedite the projects, there should still be public notice and a 10-day comment period for those projects.
      • Rules about changes to the visible facade should cover all four elevations, not just the front of the property.
      • Any appeal process should start with the local HPOZ board, since they’re residents of the area.
      • There should be no fees to correct errors in Historic Resources Surveys, since that’s a process to be encouraged, not discouraged.

Nathanson invited all attendees, and others who are interested, to submit written comments to Planning Department staffer Blair Smith[email protected] – before August 11.  She said the Cultural Heritage Commission will hold a hearing on the proposed changes on July 21, and the City Planning Commission will hear the case on September 28.

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Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and has been writing for the Buzz since 2015.

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