Photo by Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times. Written by Patricia Lombard for Larchmont Buzz.
Dozens of residents attended the semi-annual meeting of the Larchmont Village Neighborhood Association at Van Ness Elementary School to learn more about the possibility of placing a Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ) over the more than 1200 residences in the neighborhood of single and multi-family homes.
LVNA President Charles D’Atri introduced HPOZ Steering committee member Karen Gilman who has been leading the effort to investigate the process with the City as well as gauging the level of interest among residents. Gilman announced that over 1200 letters were mailed to each household asking residents to respond with their interest in learning more about securing an HPOZ to preserve the architectural heritage of the neighborhood. Residents were urged to fill out the survey and either scan it and email it back or mail it back to the association.
Gilman reported that over two years ago, volunteers had started a preliminary survey of residences in the area between Melrose Avenue and Beverly Blvd and between Arden Blvd and Wilton Place, noting that at the time, approximately 75 percent of the structures would be considered historic to the period of construction the mid 1920s.
Gilman then introduced Ken Bernstein, Manager and City Planner at Office of Historic Resources, a 12 year veteran of the LA Planning Department, who also worked at the Los Angeles Conservancy prior to the City. Bernstein was invited to present an overview of the how the city’s HPOZs or historic districts work. Gilman said the meeting was being videotaped to make the information available to all interested resident.
According to Bernstein, there are over 21,000 properties in Los Angeles’s 35 historic districts, second only to New York, with 100 historic districts with over 33,000 properties. He commended the association for the outreach they were doing to residents and the initial survey work they completed which Bernstein said is the first step to designating a historic district. Not every individual property needs to be historically significant, explained Bernstein. But the collective properties, when taken as a whole, make the case that the neighborhood has significant, unique character and sense of place that contributes to the sense of character of the city of LA.
Properties in the historic district are reviewed and classified as “contributing” and “non-contributing,” explained Bernstein. Contributing are structures which are from the period of significance and still retain integrity to convey its association with the period. Non-contributing properties were either built after the period of historic significance or were built during the period but have been so altered that they have lost their integrity. Bernstein explained that if fewer than 60 percent of the properties are contributors, there is a loss of neighborhood coherence. However, he explained that some areas with less than 60 percent contributors have been approved for an HPOZ because it’s “not a really numbers game but rather a qualitative assessment and the survey is the basis for meeting that threshold test. Larchmont Heights has qualified, but there’s been a lot of change,” he added.
The HPOZ review process is limited to the exterior if a property. Unlike the city’s Historic Cultural Monument program which is a more rigorous designation process, the HPOZ looks only at what is visible from the street. The HPOZ is administered by the city in partnership with the local community. There is usually a five member board with a licensed architect; a real estate or construction representative and homeowners or residents of the local community. The appointments are made by different entities in the city. The Cultural Heritage Commission appoints 2 people, the city council member appoints one person and the Mayor’s office appoints a member. The fifth member is appointed by the board in consultation with the community. The terms are 4 years and appointees are limited to two terms. Though he noted the city is currently reviewing appointments in some HPOZs where members have served a very long time.
The neighborhood survey will also include historic data on each property which can be very costly and time consuming to assemble. Karen Gilman explained the association is expecting the survey to cost approximately $75,000 to complete using an established historic research firm. The association received a grant for $25,000 from Paramount Studios that will be used for the survey when the decision is made to apply for an HPOZ.
Once approved, each HPOZ then develops a preservation plan that defines the neighborhood and codifies the uniqueness of the neighborhood making sure the historic context of the neighborhood is preserved. The plan provides details about all the various architectural features and serves a guide for residents considering changes or restorations.
Next to address the meeting was CD4 Senior Planning Deputy Emma Howard who said her office usually gets involved when people are having issues.
“We love community self-determination, we love preservation of single family homes because Los Angeles is a city of neighborhoods,” explained Howard. “There will always be a debate about individual rights versus communal benefits,” said Howard. “The HPOZ can be a way to keep neighborhood character but it can also be a challenge for individual homeowners. An HPOZ is a big lift, and we want to see that you want to take on that lift.”
Howard told the group of her office’s experience in Brookside where she said she told them to go door to door and sometimes they got two responses.
“This is an opportunity to sit down and decide who we are and if we really want this,” said Howard.
Members of steering committee who had worked on the initial survey of neighborhood discussed the map they created that depicted the large number of properties they thought would be considered contributing structures and the value of considering an HPOZ sooner rather than later as many of the properties have been altered since the survey work started two years ago. In the interim, the city passed an ordinance allowing for different variation zones for new construction in R-1 residential neighborhoods to control massing and scale but the ordinance doesn’t review demolition or protect architectural features. Only an HPOZ will provide a review process to protect existing architecture.
In closing the discussion, association president, D’Atri said the association will be waiting to hear back from residents to determine if there is support to proceed with further work to secure an HPOZ and encourage residents to send in their forms.