A historic program

Putting teeth into the effort to preserve Chico’s heritage

Bob Summerville

Bob Summerville

The historic-preservation program the Chico City Council recently approved has been a long time coming. In the 1970s former Mayor Ted Meriam and local preservationist Hester Patrick, both now gone, were calling for such a program, and it’s been a goal of the Chico Heritage Association virtually since its inception in 1981.

As now envisioned, the program will officially commit the city to an effort that so far has been strictly voluntary: protecting Chico’s historic heritage. It will be implemented in two principal phases—essentially, reporting and rezoning.

The first phase includes four parts: Adopting the existing historic-resources inventory; preparing a historic-preservation/cultural-resources element as part of the general-plan update; writing a historic-preservation ordinance; and creating new qualifications for members of the Architectural Review Board so they can do double duty as the Preservation Committee.

The man responsible for doing all that is Bob Summerville, a senior planner with the city of Chico. As a former board member of the Chico Heritage Association and someone with a deep interest in historic preservation, it’s a job he’s delighted to undertake.

The work already has been budgeted and no consultants or additional costs will be needed, he said. He’ll be drawing on other cities’ experiences with such ordinances as well as the state Office of Historic Preservation (known as SHPO) for materials. Sacramento, where current Planning Services Director Steve Peterson previously worked, will be an especially important source.

Summerville expects to complete the work by the time the general-plan update is adopted next summer.

The second phase will begin then. The city will qualify to be a “certified local government,” or CLG, and eligible for grant funding from numerous sources, including the SHPO. It will use those funds to update the historic-resources inventory by defining historic neighborhoods and then applying a historic zoning overlay to them.

This rezoning will require noticed public hearings and full disclosure to property owners, a process the city hopes will help to educate them about the financial advantages of historic preservation and encourage them to improve their properties.

The duties of the Preservation Committee will be defined by the ordinance, but they likely will include adding properties to the inventory and deciding whether proposed demolitions or alterations to listed properties are appropriate.

Right now Summerville anticipates the trigger for implementation of the ordinance will be a request for a demolition permit on a listed property. The Preservation Committee and, if necessary, the City Council would review the application with the right to deny it. At that point the city would give the property owner as many incentives as possible to restore the structure.

Summerville said other cities have tried more-complicated triggering systems—he cited Sacramento as example—but they have not worked well. He acknowledged that a single-trigger ordinance “may not be able to stop alterations” of historic structures and that ultimately “it will be up to the council how much teeth to put into it.”

The CHA’s John Gallardo was adamant that there should be more triggers than a demolition permit. “I am not an expert on this,” he said, “but I have seen a lot of triggers that work.”