Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ojai Planners Eye Landmark Incentives

City manager recommends new ordinance to create tax break

By Linda Harmon
While the tone of the Ojai Planning Commission meeting Wednesday night was low key — with the approval of plans for a new restaurant on East Ojai Avenue’s and the concept of creating a tax break for privately owned historic landmarks — the issues presented could resonate for years.
The owners of Hakane Sushi, 967 E. Ojai Ave., were given the go-ahead for a remodel that includes a monument sign, a trellis-covered 500-square feet dining area and the addition of a parking lot.
According to project architect Joshua Griffen, the project remodel was designed to increase pedestrian flow by improving the streetscape and including native plants and other water conservation technologies. He also said the additional parking lot would address the previously voiced problem of inadequate parking. The applicant sought to successfully address this by providing parking on a leased, adjoining property.
“It is a major improvement of the site,” said Kanika Kith, associate city planner, as she recommended approval of the project.
The restaurant will move the existing parking to the rear where it will not be visible from Ojai Avenue, and provide new landscaping, including two London plane street trees, and a patio area. The project will also incorporate permeable paving using Gravel Pave, a stabilized gravel product, and a “rain garden” to allow rainwater absorption and improve runoff at the site.
“A rain garden is basically just a depression in the landscaping to catch additional stormwater,” said Griffen, who added that the landscaping will also reflect an Asian feel.
“I’m glad to see these materials used,” said Commissioner Tucker Adams, before the project was unanimously approved. Griffen said the product is more expensive than concrete or asphalt but he feels the price will fall as more people use it.
In other actions, Cabrillo Development’s N. Montgomery Street grading project was continued until the July 2 meeting.
Then city manager Jere Kersnar gave a brief overview of the Mills Act, a state statute, and asked the commission for its approval of the concept of creating an ordinance for Ojai. A local Mills Act ordinance would give the owners of historic landmark properties a property tax reduction proportionate to the applied maintenance of their property.
Landmarks are officially designated buildings of local, county or statewide significance with historical, social or cultural value.
The Mills Act and the proposed ordinance seek to provide an economic incentive to preserve residential neighborhoods and the revitalization of downtown commercial districts and an incentive for property owners to appropriately repair and rehabilitate historical resources rather than turn to demolition and new construction.
In California, Mills Act contracts are between the property owner and the local government granting the tax abatement and the city can individually determine the criteria and requirements for participation.
Kersnar said that although on its face it is a tax loss for the city, the property owner is required to spend that money in maintaining the building. He also said that obligation will be enforced by the city with as yet undetermined procedures.
“I have to admit that my first thought was we were giving up tax money,” said Kersnar, “but with only five privately owned landmarks in the city and the great benefits to the community, I’m in favor of it going to the council.”
The private landmarks include the Ladd House, the Libbey House, the C.W. Robertson House, the Woolsey House and the Ojai Valley Country Club clubhouse. Public landmarks include the Ojai post office tower and the Arcade.
The commission affirmed Kersnar’s opinion with Commissioner Susan Weaver saying, “The value of maintaining our heritage is incalculable.”
Citizens interested in acquiring landmark status or more information on the Mills Act can go to

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