City Council Moves Forward on Preserving Historic Architecture

Panel members initiate a pilot program that gives financial incentives to owners of historic structures.

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously decided to establish a two-year pilot program that will enable owners of qualifying properties to apply for historic status.

The program is set to start Jan. 1 and is based on the state's , which offers property tax breaks in exchange for preserving historic structures.

Three properties will be chosen to participate in 2012 followed by another three in 2013, according to a presentation by Associate Planner Peter Noonan. Only single-family homes and public theaters will be eligible.

The tax savings is intended to go toward a preservation plan based on criteria established by the federal government, Noonan said in response to a question from Councilwoman Lili Bosse.

The pilot program has a $50,000 annual cap on tax revenue loss. Contracts between the city and property owners are for 10 years.

One concern raised by member Jacob Manaster during the council's study session was the loss of revenue to the city and Beverly Hills schools, which receive a portion of property tax revenue.

Mayor Barry Brucker suggested addressing the possible loss of school revenue during ongoing talks "to make certain that the school district doesn't fall astray of some anticipated moneys that they were counting on," he said.

"I look at this as a real opportunity … it's about time," said Councilman John Mirisch, who noted the preservation of vintage structures may lead to a rise in overall property values, more property tax revenue and a boost in tourism.

"As long as we're sure that we create this in a way … that the properties that we most want to support are in fact supported in a way that's fiscally responsible for the city, I'm happy to do that," Councilman Julian Gold said.

Vice Mayor William Brien said the city's theaters that qualify for historic status should be a priority for participating in the pilot program.

"Some of the theaters are … truly historic to the community and as you lose some of those properties in particular, you're never likely to get something like that back again," Brien said.

"This is a two-year learning exercise for the city because we don't have experience with the Mills Act," Noonan told Patch. "What we've seen is that unlike other cities—because of our size and the relative low number of properties in the city—that participation in the Mills Act could have some big consequences for the city's and the school district's revenues."

Noonan used the $14 million designed by master architect Richard Neutra as an example of the complexity in developing a Mills Act program for Beverly Hills.

"Many cities in our region have designed Mills Act programs to only allow homes with values of $1.5 million and below to participate," Noonan said. "The city of Beverly Hills would like higher-end homes such as the Kronish House … to be able to participate."

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