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Definitions and Designation Criteria
In the City of Whittier, a local “historic resource” is defined as, “…any improvement, historic landmark or district, or other object of cultural, architectural or historic significance to the citizens of the City, the region, the state or nation which is designated or eligible for designation and determined to be appropriate for historic preservation by the Historic Resources Commission or by the City Council…” A local “historic landmark” therefore constitutes, “…any singular historic resource that has been designated as such…” pursuant to the City’s Historic Resources Ordinance.
For a property to be considered eligible and/or designated as a local historic landmark, the potential resource must retain sufficient integrity to convey its historic significance based on one or more of the following eligibility criteria contained within Whittier Municipal Code Section 18.84.050 which states that:
“A historic resource shall be designated a historic landmark if the council finds that it meets the criteria for listing on the National Register of Historic Places or the California Register of Historical Resources; or meets one or more of the following [local] criteria:
A. It is particularly representative of a distinct historical period, type, style, region or way of life;
B. It is connected with someone renowned, important, or a local personality;
C. It is connected with a use that was once common, but is now rare;
D. It represents the work of a master builder, engineer, designer, artist or architect whose individual genius influenced his age;
E. It is the site of an important historic event or is associated with events that have made a meaningful contribution to the nation, state or city;
F. It exemplifies a particular architectural style;
G. It exemplifies the best remaining architectural type of a neighborhood;
H. It embodies elements of outstanding attention to architectural or engineering design, detail, material or craftsmanship; or
I. It has a unique location, singular characteristic or is an established and familiar visual feature of a neighborhood, community or the city.”
To designate a local historic district, Section 18.84.060 of the Whittier Municipal Code states that:
“A neighborhood consisting primarily of historic resources, or the thematic grouping of same, shall be designated a historic district if the council finds that it meets one or more of the following criteria:
A. It meets the criteria for a historic landmark;
B. It contributes to the architectural, historic or cultural significance of an area, being a geographically definable area possessing a concentration of historic resources or a thematically related grouping of structures which contribute to each other and are unified by plan, style or physical development; or
C. It reflects significant geographical patterns, including those associated with different eras of settlement and growth, particular transportation modes or distinctive examples of a park landscape, site design or community planning.”
Benefits of Local Landmark Designation
When you own a historic landmark or a contributing resource within a designated historic district in the City of Whittier, there are several potential benefits conferred upon you as the property owner. They include:
Use of the California State Historic Building Code. These alternative provisions to standard building code requirements facilitate repairs and/or a change of occupancy to a historic building to help preserve its character defining features and integrity;
Mills Act Contract eligibility;
Priority building and planning plan check review for proposed work to your property;
Protection of the integrity of your historic property through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)
Eligibility to donate or sell a façade easement to a non-profit organization; and,
For landmark properties that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a federal 20% rehabilitation tax credit is available for income producing properties using the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and Guidelines for Rehabilitation.
Local Landmark Designation Process
Whittier residents interested in voluntarily having their property considered for local landmark designation must own property that is at least 50 years old and submit a Landmark Designation Application. The Application will then be evaluated by the Historic Resources Commission through a public hearing. It often helps to have a qualified historian or architectural historian who meets the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Professional Qualifications assist in conducting the research and preparing the justification for local landmark designation. The Historic Resources Commission’s recommendation is then forwarded to the City Council for final determination. Only the City Council can confer local historic landmark designation upon a property. However, any person or group, including the city, may nominate a property for designation as a local historic landmark.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between local, state and federal landmark designation?
The City of Whittier, State of California and the U.S. Department of the Interior all maintain their own separate lists of historic resources. Although similar, each agency also maintains its own eligibility criteria for landmark designation. A resource listed as a historic landmark on one agency’s list does not necessarily mean it is listed on the others. To view each government entity’s list of historic resources follow these links: City of Whittier’s Local Official Register of Historic Resources, California Register of Historic Resources, National Register of Historic Places. Regardless of which government entity adopts a resource as a historic landmark, they are all treated the same under the Whittier Historic Resources Ordinance and the California Environmental Quality Act. However, resources not listed on the National Register of Historic Places may not be eligible for certain historic preservation funding or grants. In contrast, a Mills Act Contract can be implemented for all local, state and federally designated historic landmarks.
Would local historic landmark designation mean that I would not be able to build onto my home or make exterior repairs to my house?
No. Landmark designation still allows additions and repairs to a historic resource using the City’s Historic Preservation Guidelines (WMC Section 18.84.460) contained within the City’s Historic Resources Ordinance. These Guidelines are adopted from the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties with Guidelines for Preserving, Rehabilitating, Restoring and Reconstructing Historic Buildings in order to appropriately manage any change to a building, structure or object so that important character defining features of the historic resource are preserved to retain its integrity. While these standards and guidelines urge repair of deteriorated historic fabric, allowance is made for their replacement where the severity of the deterioration is beyond repair. Historic properties are meant to be used and enjoyed by current and future property owners to ensure the resource’s use and longevity for future generations. Any property owner considering such work is strongly encouraged to contact the Whittier Community Development Department prior to developing any construction plans or beginning work.
Does the City regulate the interior of historic landmark buildings?
Interior modifications to historic landmarks are not generally regulated by the City’s Historic Resources Ordinance unless the change(s) affect the exterior of the resource. However, any work proposed under a Mills Act Contract that involves the interior of a historic landmark building would be subject to agreement by the City of Whittier.
Can the City assign historic landmark designation to a property without the property owner’s consent?
The City’s Historic Resources Ordinance does not address local landmark designation of a property against the current property owner’s consent. While the City’s Historic Resources Ordinance allows anyone to nominate a property for local landmark designation under WMC Section 18.84.070, only the City Council can authorize local historic landmark designation of a property under WMC Section 18.84.100.
What is the difference between a “vintage” property and a designated “historic landmark” property? Is there any difference in how each property type is managed within the City’s Historic Resources Ordinance?
The City’s Historic Resources Ordinance generally manages all properties developed prior to 1941 in the same manner, regardless if they are “historic landmark” or “vintage” properties. The most noteworthy differences in owning a “historic landmark” property versus a “vintage” property (developed prior to 1941) are as follows:
Additions and alternations that effect the exterior of a designed historic landmark building or structure must not compromise its important character defining features whereby the resource no longer retains sufficient integrity to convey its historic significance or threatens its status as a historic landmark;
Unless a designated historic landmark building or structure is determined by the Building Official as “unsafe” or a “dangerous condition” exists that cannot be rectified by using the California State Historic Building Code, all contemplated demolitions to historic resources require the prior review and approval of the Historic Resources Commission under WMC Section 18.84.210. In addition, an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) must be prepared to consider both the environmental effects of the demolition and project alternatives to demolition;
A historic landmark cannot be demolished without the City’s prior review and approval of a replacement improvement on the property and the issuance of a permit under WMC Section 18.84.420; and,
The property owner has the duty to keep the historic landmark property in good repair at all times under WMC Section 18.84.370.
Does historic landmark designation increase the regulatory requirements for a property?
The City’s Historic Resources Ordinance already treats "landmark" properties and "vintage" properties (constructed prior to 1941) as virtually the same thing. However, landmark designation does offer potential opportunities for reduced property taxes and access to advantageous building code provisions contained within the California State Historic Building Code that cannot be applied to vintage properties.
Where can I find the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties with Guidelines for Preserving, Rehabilitating, Restoring and Reconstructing Historic Buildings?
A link to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and Guidelines are available by clicking here.
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