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Julie Mason: New ordinance could decrease property values

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Posted: June 5, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 5, 2011 1:55 a.m.

A preservationist once said, “It is not our intention to save physical things if so doing necessitates the loss of activities which give them life.”

Santa Clarita is in danger of a loss of activity if businesses and churches vacate buildings with historic-designation restrictions, and if people fear to buy those vacant buildings because of the restrictions.

If Santa Clarita passes a stringent historical preservation ordinance, businesses might not want to locate here.

And if they make the understandable mistake of thinking that it’s safe to buy a building that was built in 1970, they could be in for a rude awakening nine years from now when the building turns 50, and could be considered “historic.”

A historic house is a home, but a business or a church is, ultimately, a public activity. Putting the brakes on property rights in those cases could amount to putting the brakes on commercial and religious activity. 

For example, when Newhall Hardware was still in business, it had the great sign out front that said “Newhall Hardware since 1947.”

Now Newhall Hardware is closed, and has been put on a list for possible historic preservation. The building has been stripped of all its charm, boarded up and put up for sale. What remains to be preserved?

So far, no one has been interested in buying the store because, as a realtor said, “An ordinance such as this affects the potential use and asset flexibility, which, in turn, negatively impacts values.”

As the fourth-largest city in Los Angeles County, Santa Clarita should pattern its historic designation ordinance after those of its older brother and sister cities, instead of wandering off on its own by passing an unusually one-sided and coercive preservation ordinance.

The legitimacy of preservation as a community endeavor depends on its ability to issue appropriate responses to those who have objections.

Property owners who find that the restrictions imposed on them impede their activities should be offered options, such as being allowed to make a tasteful addition or modification to the building, or, if the restrictions on their activities would force the owners to vacate, allowing them to opt out, retain their property rights, and put up a plaque that describes the historical significance of the site instead.

Also, if the owner of a historic property wants to sell his or her property, but cannot get fair market value for the sale of the property because of historic designation restrictions, the city of Santa Clarita should demonstrate its commitment to preservation either by buying the property at fair market value, or by making up the difference between the selling price and fair market value.

Julie Mason is a Santa Clarita resident.


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