Plans to bring a historic resource program to Burlingame are being set into motion and will be up for a vote by the City Council June 16.
The council introduced the ordinance, which is modeled after the California city of Dana Point, on Monday. 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, which would add Title 21 to the Burlingame municipal code. 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,” Russ Cohen, former councilman and vice president of the Burlingame Historical Society, previously said. “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).”
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. Once a property is registered, it could become unregistered later, said Community Development Director Bill Meeker.
One former councilwoman previously said she was 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.”
The property tax reduction typically realized through the Mills Act Program may be anywhere from 40 percent to 70 percent, dependent upon the local economic conditions. In Burlingame, the tax for a property valued at $1.1 million, with an annual general property tax levy of $11,000, would be reduced to roughly $3,818 per year. Since the city receives 17 percent of the property tax levy, the revenue to the city would be reduced from $1,870 to $649 based on this example, according to a staff report. Aside from the tax benefits of an ordinance like this, there would 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,” Baylock 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.
“I can support this solely because it’s voluntary,” said Councilwoman Ann Keighran. “If people wish to get these tax credits, I think it’s a great thing.”
Mayor Michael Brownrigg and Vice Mayor Terry Nagel have voiced support for expanding the preservation program beyond the downtown program so others with special homes 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.
“I’m in favor of bringing it back,” Brownrigg said. “We all agree it’s a pretty limited neighborhood. I want to understand the implications of making it voluntary in a wider area.”
Meanwhile, Nagel asked if more buildings in downtown could be added to the inventory, along with historic trees.
Typically ordinances are drafted to address structures, said Meeker.
“It’s rare for them to deal with other landscaping features,” he said. “The historic grove (Howard-Ralston Eucalyptus Rows) on El Camino Real is federally certified though. The city attorney and I can do some research.”
A place could include a grove, said City Attorney Kathleen Kane.
Additional benefits of the ordinance include a 20 percent tax credit for rehabilitation of designated structures available to property owners. Further, a 10 percent tax credit for rehabilitation of non-historic, non-residential structures built before 1936 is also available to non-designated properties meeting this criteria. Owners of designated historic properties may receive a 25 percent reduction in any fees applicable to requests and for building permits for approved additions to the historic resource, according to the staff report.
To read the draft ordinance visit burlingame.org.
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