On Saturday, September 19, about 250 people attended a meeting hosted by the Miracle Mile Residential Association (MMRA) to educate the community about Historic Preservation Overlay Zones (HPOZs), and the process the Association is going through currently to acquire an HPOZ for its neighborhood.
The meeting, at the Candela restaurant on La Brea, featured a panel of speakers including MMRA HPOZ Committee Chair Mark Zecca, MMRA President James O’Sullivan, Renata Dragland from the Los Angeles Office of Historic Resources, Katie Horak from Architectural Resources Group (which specializes in surveys of historic neighborhoods and helping those neighborhoods navigate the HPOZ application process), and Robby O’Donnell, who lives in the Wilshire Park HPOZ and has helped both her own and other area neighborhoods acquire HPOZ status.
This was the second neighborhood outreach meeting held by the MMRA as part of its organized efforts to secure HPOZ status for the area. (The first meeting, held in January of this year, can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjhXQUt9m8w .) After a welcome by Mr. Zecca, Mr. O’Sullivan recounted the history of the HPOZ effort in Miracle Mile, saying it began in earnest after the first “mini-mansion” appeared in the neighborhood and people realized the area was vulnerable to further teardowns and oversized replacement homes.
He explained that the city is currently working on revisions to its Baseline Mansionization Ordinance, to prevent further out-of-scale development in historic neighborhoods, and has recently enacted an Interim Control Ordinance to prevent teardowns in certain neighborhoods while the BMO is being revised. Miracle Mile is one of the neighborhoods protected by the ICO, but it is also seeking HPOZ status to help provide permanent regulation of both teardowns and things like the scale, massing and setbacks of new construction (and the remodeling of existing homes) to maintain the neighborhood’s architectural integrity. He noted that the ICO is scheduled to expire on March 25, 2017, so an HPOZ would have to be in place by that date to provide continuous protection.
Ms. Dragland reported on the recent completion of a required historic survey of Miracle Mile, which shows that the neighborhood, with more than 80% of existing homes qualifying as “contributing structures,” built during the 1920-1953 “period of significance” for the area. She further explained that an HPOZ is mostly concerned with the “visible facade” of structures, and that only new construction and renovations would be subject to review after an HPOZ was established; existing structures and modifications that pre-date the HPOZ would be grandfathered.
Neighbors attending the meeting expressed a number of concerns and questions, mostly about possible advantages and disadvantages of instituting an HPOZ, the review procedures homeowners would face for various kinds of renovations (window replacements, landscaping, additions, solar panels, fences, etc.) under an HPOZ, and how the HPOZ would be governed and rules enforced.
Regarding the advantages of HPOZs, Mr. Zecca noted that studies from around the country have found that property values are usually higher in HPOZ-protected neighborhoods, because buyers making long-term home-purchase decisions prefer to know that a neighborhood will retain its architectural character. Ms. Dragland agreed, saying, “Your home in an HPOZ area is worth more than one in an area that does not have one.”
In addition, Mr. Zecca noted that an HPOZ would also protect older multi-family housing, which is rent controlled and – because of the rent control – tends to attract longer-term tenants, who also help to stabilize the neighborhood. He noted that new multi-family developments are not subject to rent control, and often give tenants only six-month leases, which allow rents to rise even faster, and which leads to a lot of tenant turnover and less engagement of those short-term tenants with the community.
The down side of HPOZs, said Ms. O’Donnell, is that – because they’re enforced by reporting rather than proactive review by the city – they can seem to encourage “tattletales.” Also, there have been cases where residents, unaware they live in an HPOZ or what that means, embark on expensive renovations without first going through the required review process. And in some cases, those homeowners have lost valuable time and money having to pause, cancel or re-do work already completed. But both of these problems, she said, can be avoided with good communications, so all residents know what the rules are and how to proceed when they want to work on their homes. Ms. O’Donnell also noted that realtors are legally obligated to inform potential buyers about the HPOZ when they sell a property, so no one will buy a house with expectations of tearing it down quickly or altering it in an incompatible manner.
Ms. O’Donnell went on to say that in her Wilshire Park neighborhood, the benefits of the HPOZ have far outweighed the disadvantages. She said that as soon as the HPOZ was instituted, people began repairing properties that had suffered long bouts of disrepair (one even won a recent preservation award), and people began to see “better uses” for the houses than before the protections went into effect, which improved the entire neighborhood. “For us,” she said, “it’s been nothing but good.”
Regarding the kinds of renovations allowed under an HPOZ, and the procedures for securing permissions and permits, Ms. Dragland explained that each HPOZ writes its own preservation plan, and some are more or less restrictive than others (for example, paint colors may or may not be an included item for review). Mr. Zecca explained that the 5-person HPOZ board contains members chosen or appointed by various stakeholders, including the mayor, the neighborhood and others, and is required to include both neighbors and people with professional architectural expertise.
As the MMRA continues to navigate the HPOZ process, Mr. Zecca said there will be further community meetings, workshops, and a public hearing, so residents will have further opportunities to learn and voice their opinions about the issue. He also recommended that residents contact the City Council District 4 office with their comments and concerns, both pro and con.