The dispute about the 1091 Harrison St. restoration project could be interpreted as a proxy for other complaints. One is from Old Quad owners who’ve had to face innumberable HLC and Architectural Committee reviews and revisions of their renovation projects. Another is the increasing pace of conversion of historic homes (including the Morse Mansion) into student housing for Santa Clara University. Some even suggest that anti-Muslim prejudice is finding an outlet in the dispute.
Whatever the source, the firestorm of controversy resulted in one Harrison St. resident, , being escorted from City Hall by the police, following an alleged tirade at the City Manager’s office; and homeowner Hosam Haggog and his wife being subjected to what he described at a City Council meeting last summer as “vitriol, attacks, harassment, and… threats of violence.”
Less visible, but equally important, the dispute also highlights conflicting views of exactly which city government entity gets to decide what is or isn’t an historically acceptable renovation.
The October lawsuit filed by the anonymous group “Residents of Santa Clara,” charges that “The Department Of Planning and Inspection lacks the expertise necessary to make informed discretionary determinations pertaining to the historic preservation of the Project,” and asserts that the HLC is “the government body within the City that is recognized for its expertise for determinations pertaining to historic landmarks.”
Currently, there is no city ordinance requiring that projects be reviewed by the HLC. When the 1091 Harrison St. projected erupted, the Santa Clara City Council subsequently passed an interim resolution directing the Planning Dept. to have all projects involving structures built before 1950 reviewed by the HLC until the Council could consider an historical preservation ordinance.
The lack of clear boundaries of responsibility was illustrated by the following exchange at the HLC’s May 2, 2013 meeting (source: santaclaraca.gov):
“Commissioner [Kris] Motyka noted that this project [1091 Harrison] was approved by staff. She commented that project was not reviewed by the HLC or the Architectural Committee.
“Lorie Garcia, Honorary City Historian, commented in a letter to Commissioner Motyka that such a significant resource must be reviewed by the Commission for both CEQA purposes and substantive historical considerations.
“Mr. [Steve] Lynch [City Planner] noted that on a daily basis all projects are reviewed by staff for CEQA review. The City does seek out recommendations from the HLC on historic resources for certain projects.
“Commissioner [Robert] Luckinbill noted concerns over the idea that the HLC is used in a limited advisory role, especially when the City is a Certified Local Government. Commissioner [Jeannie] Mahan noted concerns over the review process and did not understand why the project was not reviewed by HLC.
“Commissioner Motyka commented that City Clerk noted that staff works for the Commission. She noted concerns over the process and commented that the General Plan established review of historic resources within 100 feet of a listed resource is not being followed.
“Mr. [Yen] Chen [Associate City Planner] noted that projects within 100 feet of listed resource are reviewed by staff for impacts to those resources. He noted that projects consistent with Secretary of Interior Standards are reviewed by staff. Projects scheduled for Council, Planning Commission or Architectural Committee are referred to the HLC.
“Chair [Brian] Johns commented that the criteria for HLC review should be based on the scope of visible exterior changes and not limited to the conformance with the Secretary of Interior Standards.
“Members of the public raised concerns over construction activity at the property. The public in attendance stressed their disapproval of a staff level process with the lack of opportunity for review and input from neighbors…[the] property owner, briefly spoke on the process and that he had worked with staff for six months prior to obtaining approvals.
“It was moved by Commissioner Luckinbill, seconded by Mahan and carried…to recommend that the City Council provide guidance with respect to the 1091 Harrison Street project to be calendared on the HLC next agenda and CEQA to be reviewed as other historical properties are reviewed.
“It was moved by Commissioner Luckinbill, second by McKee and carried…to recommend that the City Council provide guidance with respect to when city staff is to bring items before the Historical Landmarks Commission and what is the parameter of the General Plan Policy of the 100 foot rule to a listed resource.
“The Commission commented that they wanted the project to be reviewed at a noticed meeting and requested that the motions be scheduled at the next Council meeting on May 21st or sooner. Chair Johns was assigned to review the draft reports proposed for City.”