Protecting the character of our neighborhood
A growing number of homeowners have been spearheading the effort to designate the Madison Heights Landmark District (MHLD).
There are over 20 Landmark Districts in Pasadena, and our neighborhood is eligible to become one of them. In fact, we already have 4 single-block Landmark Districts within the area of the proposed MHLD: South Madison Ave LD, South Hudson Ave LD, South Oakland Ave LD, and the recently-designated Magnolia Ave LD.
The purpose of a Landmark District is to recognize and help maintain and protect the unique historical architectural qualities and ambience of our single-family neighborhood. Being designated a Landmark District enhances both the value of a neighborhood's properties and its identity as a special neighborhood with its own character. It's also a valuable tool to help curb “mansionization.”
Additions, alterations and new construction on our properties can still occur.
A design review process helps ensure that exterior work which is visible from the street is in keeping with the character and scale of the area.
Find answers to the most common questions by clicking on them:
What is a Landmark District? (And is a "Historic District" something else?)
A Landmark District is an area that is recognized for the special quality found in its history and buildings. This character is protected by a design review process that allows changes, but helps ensure they do not compromise the qualities that make the district so special. There are more than 20 Landmark Districts in Pasadena (and counting), and we are eligible to be one of them.
While Landmark Districts are designated by the City, "Historic Districts" (aka “National Register Historic Districts”) are federally designated by the National Park Service. This isn't relevant to MHLD, but here's a link to more info: https://www.nps.gov/nr/faq.htm
WHY IS IT A GOOD IDEA?
It is a valuable tool to curb “mansionization” and to protect the overall character of our neighborhood. Remodeling and additions may still be done on "Contributing" (see below for definition) historic homes in a Landmark District, while maintaining their exterior character as seen from the street. Brand new construction is encouraged to be of a similar scale and in the general character of the surrounding houses, but specific architectural style is not regulated.
HOW DOES IT AFFECT MY HOUSE?
It does not affect the use or sale of your home. There are no requirements to do anything to alter your home. It only potentially affects certain exterior, publicly visible changes made to our homes in the future.
WHAT KINDS OF CHANGES WOULD BE REVIEWED?
Major remodeling or new construction plans are reviewed before a permit is issued. The review focuses on what is visible from the street, in order to help preserve the historic character and materials where possible. This includes alterations to front windows, doors, porches, fences, garages visible from the street, etc. Projects like the huge concrete house amongst California bungalows on Los Robles, south of California, would not be permitted.
A Landmark District should be dynamic, allowing changes that are compatible with modern needs while ensuring an overall sense of visual continuity. See the slideshow below for Before & After photos of 5 homes that have had extensive work approved within Pasadena Landmark Districts.
WHAT IS NOT REVIEWED IN A LANDMARK DISTRICT?
Examples include: exterior alterations that are not visible from the street (alleys are not considered streets in this context), paint and stain colors, interior alterations, retaining walls, landscaping, hardscape, solar panels, lighting, and routine maintenance and minor repairs. Most normal City zoning and building laws still apply.
WHAT ABOUT NEWER HOMES?
(I.e., homes built after the mid-40s, give or take. Specific dates for this district TBD.) Newer homes (along with older homes that have been so extensively altered that they no longer look like the original design) are considered “Non-Contributing” to what makes the district architecturally and historically significant. Minor alterations do not require design review. Demolition and rebuilds are considered major, and must maintain similar setbacks, scale, rooflines, primary exterior materials (in appearance, if using newer materials), etc. to the Contributing homes in the neighborhood.
WHAT ARE "CONTRIBUTING" AND "NON-CONTRIBUTING" PROPERTIES?
As noted above, Contributing properties are those that were built within the period of historical significance in a Landmark District (in MHLD's case, that will likely be up through the mid-1940s or so), and have not been significantly altered. Non-Contributing properties are those built after the period of historic significance, or older homes that have been dramatically altered (as visible from the street).
HOW HARD IS IT TO GET HOME IMPROVEMENT PERMITS IN A LANDMARK DISTRICT?
There are no additional fees. The design review (application for a Certificate of Appropriateness) will delay a building permit by about 6-10 weeks on average. Working with the City staff in the early design stage simplifies the process, and typically results in approval. Decisions may be appealed. Design guidelines follow basic standards for historic preservation from the Secretary of the Interior, for what is visible from the street.
WHAT DESIGN GUIDELINES ARE USED IN A LANDMARK DISTRICT?
Please check back very soon for helpful details about this. There are several sources for the guidelines the City's Design and Historic Preservation department uses, but they're simpler than they may at first seem. This page will also explain some of the common terms used in the guidelines, such as "guideline," "consider," "should," "preferred," "appropriate," "inappropriate," etc.
HOW ARE OUR PROPERTY VALUES AFFECTED?
Numerous studies show that being in a Landmark District tends to increase home values (sale price) at a higher rate than homes in similar, non-LD neighborhoods. Many buyers seek the unique qualities and ambiance of a Landmark District, and the assurance that they can reinvest in improvements without fear of a neighbor undermining their investment with inappropriate new development.
ARE TAXES AFFECTED?
It does NOT affect the current assessed value of your property for tax purposes (does not raise our current tax rate). In fact, if you qualify, you may reduce property taxes through The Mills Act. (If you live in a Landmark District and your home is assessed at $1.5 million or less, and you submit a 10-year plan for home improvements, your taxes may be significantly reduced.)
ARE THERE ANY COMPELLING REASONS NOT TO BECOME A LANDMARK DISTRICT?
For most residents, no. Any potential downside is far outweighed by the substantial short- and long term benefits. While there are relatively few objections among residents in potential Landmark Districts, most are based on misconceptions of what Landmark Districts involve — such as fear that it would restrict paint colors, landscaping, interior work, or the ability to add a second story or otherwise expand a house, etc. (None of which is true, for the record.)
However, there are a couple objections that some well-informed people have. 1) The permit process for exterior work on a home (if it's visible from the street) does take a little longer in a Landmark District, due to the design review to get a Certificate of Appropriateness. For most homeowners, that's a minor, temporary inconvenience that can be planned for, and worth it for the benefit of protecting their additional investment in their home — as they can rest assured that their property value and quality of life won't be diminished by a neighbor destroying a Contributing historic home or putting up an incongruent monolith such as the one pictured below. 2) Some people simply don't like the idea that the City may have any further input on what they do to the front of their house. While that's understandable, without some reasonable and long-standing standards, there is no other way to protect the integrity and charm of our special neighborhood. It's this very charm that attracted most of us to live here in the first place. Many of us feel we have a duty to help keep it up, for ourselves, the city as a whole, and future generations. 3) Some people don't care at all about the historic significance and beauty of the architecture in our neighborhood, and are fine with destroying it. Alas, it's this outook most of us want to protect against.
ARE THERE ANY OTHER BENEFITS?
Yes, there are some incentives for preserving Contributing homes in Landmark Districts. These include: potential reduction of building permit fees and construction tax for various types of exterior repair, replacement, or restoration projects, and for seismic reinforcement and other structural stabilization and repair. Also, a waiver of the two-car covered parking requirement may be requested when adding floor area to a house, if an existing one-car garage contributes to the significance of the property and/or district.
WHAT ARE THE NEXT STEPS TO OBTAINING LANDMARK STATUS?
Once neighborhood homeowners finish canvassing for signatures, an application will be submitted to the City, along with documentation of our neighborhood. There will then be 3 public hearings to review and approve the application: Historic Preservation Commission, Planning Commission, and City Council. A majority of the property owners within the final proposed MHLD boundaries would have to express support, by signing the petition. In the case of properties with more than one owner, both (or all) owners would have to sign for the property to be counted.
WHAT ABOUT THE 4 EXISTING SMALL LANDMARK DISTRICTS THAT FALL WITHIN THE WIDER BOUNDARY OF MHLD?
Those homeowners will be presented with a different petition. It will ask whether they wish to become part of the larger MHLD, should MHLD be approved.
How will the Madison Heights Landmark District compare with the other Landmark Districts throughout Pasadena?
MHLD will be the second-largest Landmark District in the City. Bungalow Heaven is the largest, with 1,139 properties – quite a high bar to reach! Historic Highlands is currently second, with 479 properties. MHLD (as currently proposed) would have approximately 740 properties. And we'd be the smartest and best-looking, naturally. :)
HOW WAS THE PROPOSED MHLD MAP DRAWN?
Why isn't all of Madison Heights neighborhood association included? Why are some homes outside of mhna included? And why are some homes on the map eligible but not currently included?
Check back soon for answers to these burning quesitons.
WHAT DO LOCAL REAL ESTATE AGENTS AND CONTRACTORS THINK ABOUT LANDMARK DISTRICTS?
Check back soon. We've spoken with some, and we'll share their views shortly.
WHO ARE SOME OF THE SIGNIFICANT ARCHITECTS WHOSE WORK IS IN THE PROPOSED MHLD?
- Greene & Greene
- Arthur & Alfred Heineman
- Wallace Neff
- Frederick L Roehrig
- David M. Renton
- Sylvanus Marston
- John William Chard
- Reginald Davis Johnson
More Q&A’s to come... including: Could I still build that granny flat for my granny? Please submit any further questions you have, and we’ll anwer them here.
Questions? Comments? Concerns? Want more info? Want to join your neighbors and get involved to help make this happen? Please email:
Click below to see the proposed MHLD map. Final borders may change. The areas outlined in gray have been deemed eligible, but are not actively being pursued for MHLD at this time. (See FAQ for more about that.)
Examples of approved major construction in Landmark Districts. (Use arrows or click thumbnails.)
Unless Madison Heights becomes a Landmark District…
this could go up next door to you, too.
It may be fine in many places, but it’s incongruous amongst the historic homes and bungalows that make Madison Heights so unique and inviting.