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It's Déjà Vu for Landmarks Commission

By Jorge Casuso

April 9 -- Foes of a plan to carve out as many as six historic districts in the wealthy north of Montana neighborhood packed a meeting of the Landmarks Commission Monday night, prompting a decision to send the issue to a subcommittee that will meet in private.

Saying they were not ready to make a final decision, commissioners also decided to hold a series of community forums to discuss the hot-button issue, which has infuriated homeowners who fear they will lose control of their devalued properties.

Attorney Tom Larmore, a leader of the homeowners movement, said after the meeting that he had no problem with allowing the three-member subcommittee to meet in private, noting that a final decision would be made in public by the full seven-member committee.

"I can understand it's a nuisance to have these pesky members of the public, particularly when there's so many of them," said Larmore, a north of Montana resident who is a driving force behind the movement. "I don't have a problem. It's a practical matter."

Monday night saw a continuation of a heated -- and sometimes unruly -- debate that started a week earlier, when the commission met at the Main Library to discuss whether to create districts that would give tax benefits to homeowners but limit their right demolish or significantly remodel their properties.

At Monday night's meeting in the council chambers, several commissioners reiterated their stance that the historic districts likely would not move forward if it did not have the backing of homeowners in the affected areas.

The issue -- which has been framed as pitting property rights and historical preservation -- could mobilize homeowners in the November race for three open City Council seats.

The newly formed "Homeowners for Voluntary Preservation" is circulating a petition to gather the 6,000 valid signatures necessary to place a measure on the ballot requiring homeowner's approval before a property is designated as a landmark.

Larmore said that the group would press on even if the commission backs down on carving out the new districts.

"I don't think that I would drop the initiative," Larmore said. "It wouldn't have quite the urgency, but people would feel much more comfortable knowing their consent is required. This shouldn't be the sort of thing imposed on people."

The current debate was spurred by the City's updated historic resources inventory for the North of Montana area, which will be used to assist planning and decision-making in a section of the city described as home to "some of the oldest and most significant historic resources in Santa Monica."

The $29,000 study conducted by Historic Resources Group found that of the 358 properties listed in the historic resources inventory, 93.3 percent are located in potential historic districts.

The potential districts are on Adelaide Drive and Adelaide Place, Georgina Avenue, La Mesa Drive and La Mesa Way, the Palisades Tract and 18th Street. Other potential districts include the Byers Thematic District, the Montana Avenue Streamline Thematic District and the San Vicente Apartment Courts District.
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