Daily Journal file photo
The Burlingame Post Office is included in the city’s inventory of historical properties as part of its 2010 downtown specific plan.
Preserving historical buildings in Burlingame could mean tax incentives and restoration of various properties if an ordinance gets through the City Council.
City staff has been working on the potential ordinance for a historic resource program that lets people apply to make a place, within its downtown specific plan, a historic building over the last few months. Back in March 2013, the City Council directed staff to work on such an ordinance. For now, the councilmembers would like to keep a pilot program within the downtown area. There are currently 23 potentially historic properties in the city’s downtown inventory, including the Burlingame train station, the G.W. Gates House, Bank of Burlingame and Farrell residence on Chapin Avenue.
“After the pilot program, it would be good to explain to other property owners [outside of downtown] the benefits of the program,” said Vice Mayor Terry Nagel.
The main incentive of the program is that, under the Mills Act Historical Property Contract Program, homeowners get a substantial discount on property tax if they put together a plan for maintaining and restoring their historical property. A Mills contract is executed between the city and the property owner for a revolving 10-year term. Citizens would work with the Community Development Department before bringing the proposal to the Planning Commission for approval. Owners can’t use the Mills Act if their city doesn’t have a historic resource program.
Beyond the pilot program, Mayor Michael Brownrigg and Nagel are voicing support for expanding the preservation program beyond the downtown district so others might take advantage of the Mills Act. However, that might open the door to a requirement that others would be required to get historic assessments by historical consultants to determine defining features and historic characteristics of their homes before doing any remodeling. That is already the case in the Burlingame Park district, due to documents submitted back in 2009 by the Burlingame Historical Society.
Councilman Jerry Deal is a bit hesitant about such an ordinance, but did agree it would be good for property taxes.
“Preservation can be expensive,” said Deal. “I saw one building owner go into bankruptcy. They had to sell the building.”
Meanwhile, some residents are in support of an ordinance being extended out of downtown. For example, Reese and Sally Foster live in a Julia Morgan home in Burlingame. Julia Morgan was a California architect who designed more than 700 buildings in California during her life, including the famous Hearst Castle in San Simeon. The Fosters wonder how they can protect their home’s historic value.
“We’re thinking of downsizing and when someone buys our home our main concern is they would tear it down,” Sally Foster said. “It’s a 100-year-old house and we’re happy with the possibility of using the Mills Act.”
Nagel noted Burlingame has some charming, historic buildings in town that should be protected, including the little houses behind the main fire station on California Drive and the “storybook” homes on Carlos Avenue.
“How to protect historic buildings without infringing on the rights of other homeowners is still an open question,” Nagel said in an email.
Brownrigg made it clear he believes the program should be strictly voluntary.
“I’m really against designations being foisted on people who don’t want them,” Brownrigg said. “I’m OK with a program that’s completely voluntary as long as a neighbor can’t do it to someone else’s home.”
Bill Meeker, community development director, said the next step is to fine tune the ordinance with the city attorney and city manager.
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