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Amendments to the HPOZ Ordinance Take Effect


The Los Angeles City Council has adopted amendments to the City’s Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ Ordinance), which have been signed by Mayor Garcetti and became effective on June 17, 2017. 

The HPOZ Ordinance, contained in Section 12.20.3 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC), includes procedures for the establishment of an HPOZ, adoption of a Preservation Plan, and the review of projects. With 35 current HPOZs and many future HPOZs expected to be adopted, the Department of City Planning in 2016 reviewed the ordinance and proposed changes to many of its procedures and process thresholds to provide more effective implementation.

The following changes were made to the HPOZ Ordinance:

1.     Allow for a Board to serve multiple HPOZs

The current ordinance requires that each HPOZ have a unique five-member Board to assist the City in reviewing proposed projects within the district. Based on the community interest in sharing a Board in a number of current HPOZs, the amendment allows for the joint administration of two or more HPOZs by a single, seven-member Board. 

2.  Clarify the procedures for the technical correction of a historic resources survey

An application for the correction of technical errors or omissions in a Historic Resources Survey for an HPOZ currently requires a hearing before the Cultural Heritage Commission (CHC), so that the commission can make a recommendation to the Director of Planning on the reclassification of a parcel. In order to expedite the processing of technical corrections, the amendments have clarified that the CHC’s staff designee can provide this recommendation to the Director of Planning.

3.  Create more proportional thresholds

In the HPOZ Ordinance, larger projects or more significant alterations require “Certificate” approval, while smaller projects have a more expedited path, called “Conforming Work.” The amendments now further divide Conforming Work into two categories, Minor and Major Conforming Work. Minor Conforming Work would include normal maintenance, rehabilitation, and restoration projects. In order to encourage rehabilitation work and good preservation practice, there will continue to be no application fee for Minor Conforming Work.  More elective, applicant-initiated projects that require more intensive staff review, such as small additions, construction of small structures, and modifications to accessory structures, would be classified as Major Conforming Work, with a proposed application fee set at a level lower than the fees for “Certificate” applications (currently $708 to $1706).

The existing ordinance restricts Conforming Work for Contributing Elements to additions under 250 square-feet, and requires larger additions and all new structures to be processed under a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA), even if they are not visible from the street. However, in HPOZs with homes as small as 1,000 square feet, a 250 square-foot addition is a 25% increase in the size of the structure; whereas, on a larger 5,000 square-foot structure, a 250 square-foot addition is only a 5% increase in the size of the structure. The amendment addresses this concern by replacing the flat 250 sq. ft. threshold with a proportional approach: non-visible additions and new construction that result in a less than 20% increase of the building coverage may be processed as Major Conforming Work. The construction of accessory structures and the demolition of accessory structures verified as non-historic also now qualify as Conforming Work.

4.  Improve Regulations for Non-Contributing Properties        

The current ordinance requires that almost all Conforming Work on Non-Contributing features be “signed-off”, or approved. In implementation, the lack of review authority and design standards has resulted in projects that have proven detrimental to the historic character of HPOZ neighborhoods. The amendments remedy this discrepancy by enabling projects affecting Non-Contributing Elements to be reviewed for conformity with the Preservation Plan and allowing for design guidelines for alterations to Non-Contributing Elements, which will still provide greater leeway for changes than on projects affecting Contributing Elements. 

5.  Address Demolition without Permit

In the aftermath of recent demolitions without permit in HPOZs, the amendments seek to create a clearer procedure for responding to unpermitted demolition. To clarify what constitutes demolition, a definition is provided, and the ordinance creates a procedure under which the Department of City Planning would document for the Department of Building and Safety the lost historic features and recommend any remaining historic features which should be retained.  The Department of Building and Safety would then use this evaluation in addressing appropriate enforcement measures and potential penalties.

6. Relieve Street Dedication Requirements

Finally, the amendments address property dedication requirements on HPOZ streets.  Since the majority of structures within an HPOZ are Contributing Structures, they are very unlikely to be demolished and their relationship to the public roadway will not change.  Therefore, requiring a street dedication for new construction projects can disrupt the streetscape and setting of the district and also result in the need to remove historic walls, trees, and curbs which would otherwise be protected. The amendments exempt any portion of a street within an HPOZ (or sharing a boundary with an HPOZ) from the street dedication requirements in the Municipal Code, unless the dedication is specifically requested by the Director of Planning, provided that the existing sidewalk is in compliance with public right-of-way accessibility requirements.

If you have questions about the adopted ordinance amendments, please contact Blair Smith at blair.smith@lacity.org.