While many outsiders may view Los Angeles as an imposing megalopolis, it is truly a city of great neighborhoods. Just slightly off the beaten path, in communities throughout the city, are remarkably intact historic neighborhoods.
Recognizing the need to identify and protect neighborhoods with distinct architectural and cultural resources, the City has developed an expansive program of Historic Preservation Overlay Zones (HPOZs). HPOZs, commonly known as historic districts, provide for review of proposed exterior alterations and additions to historic properties within designated districts.
The City Council adopted the ordinance enabling the creation of HPOZs in 1979; Angelino Heights became Los Angeles’ first HPOZ in 1983. Today, the City of Los Angeles has 34 designated HPOZs
, with many more under consideration (Proposed HPOZs
). HPOZ areas range in size from neighborhoods of approximately 50 parcels to more than 3,000 properties. While most districts are primarily residential, many have a mix of single-family and multi-family housing, and some include commercial and industrial properties. HPOZs are established and administered by the Los Angeles City Planning Department (in concert with the City Council). Individual buildings in an HPOZ need not be of landmark quality on their own: it is the collection of a cohesive, unique, and intact collection of historic resources that qualifies a neighborhood for HPOZ status.
What is an HPOZ and how does it work?
An Historic Preservation Overlay Zone, or HPOZ, is an area of the city which is designated as containing structures, landscaping, natural features or sites having historic, architectural, cultural or aesthetic significance. To receive such designation, areas must be adopted as an HPOZ by the City Planning Commission and the City Council through a zone change procedure that includes notification of all affected and nearby property owners and public hearings. Once designated, areas have an HPOZ overlay added to their zoning, and are subject to special regulations under Section 12.20.3 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code. Each HPOZ area has a five member HPOZ Board to review and make recommendations on projects and promote historic preservation within the designated area. Most types of exterior changes or improvements to properties in an HPOZ area require written approval from the Planning Department.
What are the possible advantages of living in an HPOZ?
- Control over inappropriate alterations: HPOZs offer one of the most effective tools to protect the unique historic exterior architectural character of neighborhoods. The HPOZ process ensures that proposals for exterior alterations, additions, and new construction in historic neighborhoods receive appropriate review and scrutiny. Designation as an HPOZ helps to ensure that the most distinctive, historic, and charming qualities of the neighborhood will be preserved.
- Increase in property values: Numerous studies nationally have found that homes within historic districts such as HPOZs tend to appreciate in value at a higher rate than similar homes outside designated historic districts. Many homebuyers specifically seek out homes in unique historic neighborhoods and welcome the assurance that the qualities which attracted them to the neighborhood are more likely to endure over time.
- Eligibility for property tax reductions: Under the Mills Act program, owners of “contributing structures” (those structures that were built during the predominant period of development in the neighborhood and that have retained most of their historic architectural features) are eligible to enter into a contract with the City that can result in substantial property tax savings.
- Preservation expertise: The HPOZ Board, in addition to its formal role in reviewing process, can often serve as an informal source of technical expertise and guidance. Board members often offer property owners excellent advice on cost-effective ways to remodel their properties to maintain and enhance their historic character, and may even suggest local contractors and craftspersons who have worked on similar rehabilitation projects.
- Enhanced sense of community: The HPOZ approval process can often bring a neighborhood together around a common source of pride: a neighborhood’s history and architectural character. The designation itself can help create a sense of identity among neighborhood residents and greater awareness of the neighborhood throughout the city.
What are the possible disadvantages?
Property owners should be aware that properties located within an HPOZ are subject to additional review processes. A property owner may need to make a presentation to their local HPOZ Board. Most types of exterior changes or improvements must be approved by the Department of City Planning: minor modifications may be approved very quickly, but more significant changes may be under review for up to 75 days. Projects that would degrade the historic character of the building or the neighborhood may not be allowed.
An HPOZ is also not the right tool for every neighborhood. Sometimes, neighborhoods become interested in achieving HPOZ status largely to stop out-of-scale new development. An HPOZ should not be seen as an “anti-mansionization” tool: other zoning tools may better shape the scale and character of new construction. An HPOZ is best utilized when a neighborhood has a cohesive historic character and community members have reached a consensus that they wish to preserve those historic architectural features.