Over the last 20 years, there has been a significant change in the way we live in Downey. The places we live, shop and dine have all changed; some for the good and some for the not-so-good.
This made me start to think about the things that can we done to make it better for everyone in our city. We have decent shopping and dining, but our neighborhoods seem to get lost somewhere in-between. We have a stock of beautiful older homes, some needing a little work, and we have a mix of newer builds that are just a little out-of-place when you put them next to most of our community’s housing.
I think we have finally come to a place where we could use a little more oversight as to what is being built around town, something that will make it good for investors/builders, while also respecting the rights of those people that have made their own investments in a neighborhood by buying homes.
Many of you may remember that a few years back, I, as well as many other people in the community, spoke out against some of the large homes that were being built. With this being said, the city implemented a few standards that were intended to make things better for neighborhoods. The issues of setback and height were addressed by the city, and those actions did do some good with these homes.
Another thing that was done was the adoption of design guidelines which were supposed to be used in the neighborhoods to integrate both new homes and remodels, so the impact would not be so harsh. This is where I think we need a little work to move forward and help all residents retain high property values.
Most neighborhoods in Downey have established streetscape patterns defining their character. New structures should respect these established patterns and be consistent with the typical characteristics that can be seen from the street. Setbacks and views of existing homes should be taken into consideration when a new home is built or an older home is restored or redone. New infill construction as well as additions should be compatible with the character of the neighborhood and the traditional architectural styles found there, and should incorporate the features of prevalent styles.
Massing, materials and detail to design should all be considered so the development is beneficial not just to investors/builders, but also to the residents that have spent their hard-earned money to buy into the neighborhood. I, as well as many other people here in town, take great pride in our homes and our city. We want our homes to remain relevant to how we live today, but we also want to keep our investment in our community so that we all may flourish in the future.
The steps that need to be taken are actually not out of the ordinary, they are being done today throughout Southern California in other communities. For instance, the cities of South Pasadena and Alhambra have implemented great models for design guidelines that could easily be used here in Downey. Although our city did approve the implementation of similar design guidelines a few years ago, it has not yet put them into effect.
What the Downey Conservancy encourages for the upcoming year is a historic survey of our neighborhoods to determine what the prevalent design patterns are, while at the same time looking for possible historic structures that may need to have special attention brought to them. Historic structures and historic neighborhoods bring value to the city as a whole and help to create local jobs. It is not uncommon for designated historic zones to have property values up to 40% higher than the surrounding neighborhoods. As a homeowner in the City of Downey, I would be proud to own a historic home, and I believe many other members of the community would be as well.
The Downey Conservancy would like to share with the community a common myth about historic preservation.
MYTH: “If a property gets designated as a historic landmark, it’s protected forever and can never be demolished.”
FACT: Landmark designation ensures a more-thorough review of demolition proposals, but it does not prohibit demolition outright. In the City of Los Angeles, designation as a city historic landmark (Historic-Cultural Monument) allows the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission to object to the issuance of a demolition permit, but only for 180 days. The City Council may then extend the objection to demolition for an additional 180 days.
Many East Coast cities, including New York, do actually prohibit demolition of their landmarks, but these cities also leave an exception for cases of demonstrated economic hardship. Even listing in the National Register of Historic Places, which sounds more elevated than “mere” local listing, does not provide for more iron-clad protection. Although demolition of a designated landmark in California additionally requires preparation of an Environmental Impact Report to assess the feasibility of alternatives to demolition, a truly determined property owner may be able to obtain approval to destroy even our most cherished landmarks.
To learn more about The Downey Conservancy, please visit thedowneyconservancy.org or contact the organization at (562) 869-4900.
George Redfox is president of the Downey Conservancy.