City properties given the A-list treatment?

A push by city leaders to preserve Burlingame’s historic value has led to a good old-fashioned controversy.

During a heated meeting with the occasional shouting match last week, property owners complained to city officials about the validity of a newly released list that identifies which properties in the city should be historically protected. The owners of buildings on the preliminary list questioned whether their properties should be subject to historic preservation, which would force the owners into extra costs for renovations.

At the center of the debate is the city’s historic A-list of 23 downtown structures that will be added to the California Register of Historic Resources and the National Register of Historic Places. That list includes the train depot, St. Catherine of Siena School, the Mike Harvey Honda dealership, and other churches, businesses and homes.

Any property owner on the A-list by state law must hire a consultant to evaluate the property, about a $2,000 to $3,000 expense, Community Development Director Bill Meeker said. Furthermore, properties on the register also are required by state law conduct a special environmental impact report before demolition of that building, he said.

The review process is long, costly and could prevent developments from starting, said John Ward, a consultant for two property owners on the A-list. Ward’s clients are now in the spotlight after they purchased two properties on Douglas Avenue to make way for a 17-unit condominium project, only to see the two houses cited as historic.

Despite those obligations, the property owners on the list are eligible for “major” tax benefits, said Councilmember Cathy Baylock, a member of the Burlingame Historical Society.

“I personally would want the historic designation even if it meant I couldn’t tear down my house,” Baylock said.

There are also 51 structures in the downtown area placed on an historic B-list. Those buildings convey historical significance, but will likely not be subject to the state or national registers or extra costs.

The City Council voted to create the list in January 2007. A group of independent consultants have since worked with organizations, such as the Burlingame Historical Society, to determine which properties would make the inventory. The council, which was in attendance at last week’s meeting, will have to approve the final list in the coming months.

mrosenberg@examiner.com

History lesson

Burlingame’s historical preservation list

» 23: Properties on proposed preservation list

» 51: Additional properties with historic value

» 500: Properties eligible for list

» January 2007: Council approves formation of the list

» Feb. 19: Preliminary list issued

Source: City of Burlingame

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