San Luis Obispo City Council passes historic homes ordinance

The much-debated ordinance defining procedures and standards for preserving historic buildings within city limits was approved 4-1 Tuesday night by the San Luis Obispo City Council.

Approval of the ordinance comes after 12 public hearings and almost a year’s worth of discussion by the city’s advisory bodies and the council itself about the updated historic preservation guidelines.

One major change made by the City Council in October was to eliminate from the ordinance a set of proposed penalties tied to demolishing historic resources.

A heated public debate about the fines led to hours of public comment. Property owners could have been charged up to $5,000 a day for ongoing violations, plus a one-time fine of as much as $10,000 per violation.

The ordinance applies to about 175 properties that are included on San Luis Obispo’s master list of “historic resources” — those structures deemed unique and the most important properties.

There are 500 or so additional properties on the city’s list of “contributing historic resources,” a designation that can be applied to publicly visible structures at least 50 years old.

Despite the change, some people remain concerned that the ordinance unfairly targets owners of historic homes and gives the city too much control over their properties.

“We are not in need of fixing. We do not want unintended consequences that could limit future development,” said Ermina Karim, governmental affairs director for the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce.

Kim Murry, deputy director of long range planning, said the city is actively pursuing maintaining the its own historic resources.

The city applied for and recently received a $110,000 grant to stabilize the La Loma Adobe — considered one of the most threatened adobes owned by the city, Murry said.

Dan Carpenter, chair of the Cultural Heritage Committee that authored the historic homes ordinance, said he was caught off guard at the public backlash against it.

“We presented a product that we thought was what the public wanted, and when it got to the council, we realized we were way off base,” Carpenter said. “But I am happy that the public finally chimed in because their support is what will make it effective. It was never our intention to create an ordinance that would be crammed down their throats.”

Even without using fines as a tool to encourage compliance, Carpenter said, the ordinance will still be useful.

It allows the city to qualify as a “certified local government,” giving it the ability to apply for grants to assist homeowners with preservation work.

The ordinance also offers a clearer definition of what is expected of developers and owners of historic homes, Carpenter said.

The ordinance will return to the City Council on Dec. 7 for final approval.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.