Historic preservation program renewed

Renee Shadforth

Some business owners think it may be the best thing that ever happened to downtown Truckee. Others think it might be a flawed process.

Still, after listening to the broad scope of public opinion, the Truckee Town Council unanimously passed a series of resolutions supporting the town’s Historic Preservation Program, a process that has been many years in the making.

The program – a living document complete with design guidelines, architectural guidelines and an economic incentives plan – includes buildings in the downtown corridor older than 50 years old.

The guidelines were created to be consistent with the National Register for Historic Places and Certified Local Government Status through the State Office of Historic Preservation. If the register certifies Truckee’s downtown corridor, it could lead to federal tax credits for the cost of rehabilitation.

“That’s always been the reason for creating a national register district,” said Duane Hall, Truckee town planner.

In 1999, town staff surveyed 240 buildings in the downtown corridor and placed each building into a category: A – essential; B – contributory; C – supporting; and D – non-essential.

Before the most recent process, the town’s historic building inventory hadn’t been updated since the ’70s, and there were only two categories of buildings: historic and non-historic.

“That approach – one size fits all – can cause some growing pains (for the downtown corridor),” Hall said.

The program’s biggest changes are in the reconstruction and demolition guidelines for historic buildings. For category A and B buildings – like the C.B. White House or Alta Hotel locations – a certificate of exemption (usually in the case of economic hardship or immediate danger) will be required to demolish the building. Also, reconstruction will not be allowed unless demolition is approved.

Tom Grossman, who owns property in the downtown corridor, said he believes one of his buildings was wrongfully categorized.

“There are a lot of buildings downtown that are mistakenly classified, and it affects our pocketbooks,” Grossman said.

One man, who recently purchased a category A building by the river, said he was told by the town that the structure was built in 1906, but he had photographic documentation illustrating the building wasn’t built until the ’30s.

“I just wanted to alert the town that there may be some erroneous information out there,” he said.

The biggest change presented by the new program, perhaps, will be for category C buildings – like Casa Baeza’s location – wherein the building may be demolished if the new building will be reconstructed to replicate the original structure. The reconstruction must be done in accordance with National Register of Historic Places guidelines.

“I think we’ve lost buildings to demolition that we maybe could have saved,” said Sharon Arnold, who worked with the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee in the formation of the program.

Pat Davison, the field director for the California Association of Business, Property and Resource Owners, asked town council to consider including an “opt-out” clause for buildings that become eligible for the preservation district in coming years.

“It’s one thing if the owner wants [to be a part of the district], but what if they don’t want to,” Davison said. “They were never envisioned in the first place.”

After some discussion, town council members didn’t accept the CABPRO suggestion.

“It feels a little odd passing a historic preservation program with an opt-out clause. Then what’s the point of the program?” said Truckee Mayor Ted Owens.

Town council also adopted a report detailing the economic impacts and incentives for property owners to become a part of the register district. When property owners improve the historic “quality” of their building, Hall said, there might be some incentives in addition to the costs incurred for improving their building, like tax credits, property tax reductions, and state and federal grants.

“Before the burden was always placed on the property owners,” Hall said. “We decided there needs to be more of a partnership between town government, property owners and business owners.”

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