Plans to bring a historic resource program to Burlingame are in the works and city approval for a downtown program is a month or two out.
Modeled after the city of Dana Point, Calif., Burlingame officials have been working on the potential ordinance for a program that lets people apply to signify a historic building within its downtown specific plan. For now, the city is looking to start a program downtown which could then be expanded elsewhere. There are currently 23 potentially historic properties in the city’s downtown inventory that was established in 2008 and includes the Burlingame train station, the G.W. Gates House, Bank of Burlingame and Farrell residence on Chapin Avenue.
Now, the city has drafted a historic resource preservation ordinance. 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.
“Generally speaking, we’re moving in the right direction,” said Russ Cohen, former councilman and vice president of the Burlingame Historical Society. “Focusing on downtown is a great start, but the real benefit of the Mills Act will come from residents (by including areas outside of downtown).”
The proposed ordinance should be going to the City Council for vote in the next 60 days, around May or June. It will only affect downtown from Peninsula Avenue to Oak Grove Avenue and El Camino Real to California Drive, said Community Development Director Bill Meeker. If the city sees success with the downtown program, it could decide to expand it out to other areas, he said. Any property within the plan area can be considered if it has historic value, including 51 properties not on the inventory list of 23 that have already been evaluated in some way.
“The incentives designated for the properties are great,” said Planning Commissioner Nirmala Bandrapalli at a meeting Monday night. “This is a very well-written document.”
One former councilwoman is pleased with the prospects of such an ordinance.
“I’m happy to see it looks like it’s finally going to get passed,” said Cathy Baylock, now treasurer for the Burlingame Historical Society. “I’ve been working on it for 16 years. It’s the right approach to start in downtown first and kind of do a pilot program and see how much interest there is.”
Aside from the tax benefits of an ordinance like this, it will be many historical benefits as well for the city, she said.
“It allows someone to have a more level playing field for saving a building instead of demolishing it,” she said. We get to keep all these beautiful buildings that make Burlingame so special.”
Back in March 2013, the City Council directed staff to work on such an ordinance. At a March 1 joint meeting of the City Council and the Planning Commission this year, the council provided direction to staff to proceed with preparation of an amendment to the city’s municipal code adding a chapter establishing a historic preservation program. The Planning Commission was established as the Historic Resource Preservation Commission that will be charged with evaluation requests for designation of properties.
“Most notable is the requirement that property owner consent is required for designation of any nominated property,” a staff report states.
Mayor Michael Brownrigg and Vice Mayor Terry Nagel previously voiced support for expanding the preservation program beyond the downtown program 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.
To read the draft ordinance visit burlingame.org.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105