Council to vote tonight on Historic Preservation law

Aimed at preserving the looks of downtown homes

The City Council will meet at 7 p.m. tonight to continue a public hearing a month ago on a proposed new law aimed at preserving the looks of downtown Pleasanton homes built before 1942.

If approved, the council's vote would wrap up more than two years of public debate on how to preserve the historic appeal of central Pleasanton while also allowing significant upgrades and even rebuilding of homes in the downtown district.

"We're not building 100-year-old-homes anymore and it's important that the ones that we have should be saved," said City Manager Nelson Fialho.

The ordinance would affect only residential areas in the Downtown Specific Plan, not businesses or commercially-zoned properties. That area extends from Third Street on the east to the Alameda County Fairgrounds on the west, and from Bernal Avenue on the south to the Union Pacific Railroad tracks and Old Stanley Boulevard to the north.

In the 1930s and 1940s, some of the older homes on Neal and Abbey streets were renovated with little attention paid to their original style and long before the city government and quasi-public organizations became concerned about preserving old houses. The focus in those years was preserving the looks of downtown Pleasanton, particularly Main Street.

Since then, a greater focus has been placed on neighborhood preservation, particularly by those who own the stately Victorians on First, Second and Third streets. Changes would be made but only after a property owner hired an architect to determine the age of the home and then took remodeling or rebuilding requests through a series of channels, including the Planning Commission and City Council.

The council's action Tuesday is expected to include spending municipal funds to survey all the homes in the downtown zone with a register listing all homes build before 1942. That date was chosen because architectural styles and home sizes changed significantly after World War II with few homes built in Pleasanton during the war years.

Realtor Mike Peel told the council that the date should be pre-1900. Another recommendation was to make any home built more than 50 years ago "historic," which would be a rolling date starting this year with homes built in 1963 and earlier. Neither suggestion gained any support at the Dec. 17 public hearing.

Under the Historic Preservation measure before the council, owners of the historic-designated homes could still modernize, renovate and even tear down homes, but would have to keep or replace the look of the facade of the older home to a depth of 10 feet. The plan calls for keeping the street appearance the same, although the rest of the house could be altered.

"We have to strike a balance," Fialho said. "We can't create a situation where young families buy a home that's historic and then can't make changes as their families grow. Under these new guidelines, they could still make additions, modernize the interiors, put on new roofs, even solar, and install energy-efficient windows.

Some objections to the proposed new rules have argued that owners of historic-designated homes would have to replace old wooden windows with custom-made and costly wooden frames, and would be blocked from using today's building materials in rebuilding or remodeling.

"That's not the case," Fialho said. "Today's materials, including plastics, look much like the original and would be perfectly acceptable. We just want to make sure that whatever is done preserves the looks of the neighborhood and doesn't look schlocky."

Additions and other modifications to the exterior of historic-designated homes would also have to be in accord with architectural styles dating from pre-1942. These are Gothic Revival, Italiante, Victorian (Queen Anne, Stick and Folk), Bay Tradition, Craftsman, Prairie, Mission Revival, Spanish Colonial Revival and Mediterranean.

By enacting the historic preservation guidelines, Fialho said homeowners or those buying a historic home in Pleasanton can avoid the costs and time required up to now to get city approvals. If the home is on the historic register, no architect would be needed to confirm that. If the changes are with the new guidelines and the facade of the historic home will look the same, simple over-the-counter permits can be obtained at City Hall.

The new ordinance also restricts the floor area ratio of the home to 40percent, or the average percentage of neighboring homes with 150 feet. Street-facing garages also would be discouraged since most lots in the downtown district are narrower and often irregular compared to development-type lots created after WWII.

Because of widespread interest in the historic preservation proposal, the council's two-hour public hearing on Dec. 17 was continued to Tuesday. At the upcoming meeting, the city planning staff will make no further presentations with Mayor Jerry Thorne planning to resume the public hearing at the start of the meeting. He asked at the December meeting that those who spoke refrain from speaking again on Tuesday, but, of course, anyone can make new or additional comments.

The seven-member Historic Preservation Task Force was formed by the City Council in December 2011. The group has held 12 regular meetings, four public outreach meetings, one public workshop and appeared before both the Planning Commission and City Council with so-called "check-in" reports.

Its members are Bonnie Krichbaum, Paul Martin, Gerald Hodnefield, Linda Garbarino, Phil Blank, Emile Cruzan and Planning Commissioner Jennifer Pearce, who served as chairwoman.

At the task force's last meeting with the council, council members said they opposed creating a local historic district in Pleasanton, but otherwise agreed with most of the group's recommendations.

The City Council meeting will take place in the Pleasanton Civic Center, 200 Old Bernal Ave.


Like this comment
Posted by Conserve
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 21, 2014 at 9:16 am

Need to preserve the look. May be too late. As a local, Ive tried to buy a nice home in downtown… forget it. Every time some outsider has had cash or bid several thousand over asking. Locals don't have a chance. Later you see the same home gutted and a huge mansion in its place. So much for preservation! Good luck on passing.

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