It took a city analysis, two consultant studies and two public hearings, but the council on Monday ruled that the Historic Resources Board relied on the wrong standards when it concluded that the house, despite major renovations, maintains its historical "integrity." City staff had disagreed, noting that the house had been remodeled so significantly since 1976 that it no longer qualifies as historic.
The list of modifications includes a "substantial redesign of the roof," "alteration of the entire right side facade" and replacement of almost every historic window and door with the modern variety.
Staff's conclusion was independently confirmed by the historic-architecture firm Garavaglia Architecture, which concluded that the building should not be listed as historic. Pickett then hired another architecture firm, Page & Turnbull, to review the Garavaglia study. Page & Turnbull reached the same conclusion as Garavaglia.
The Historic Resources Board, however, focused on the building's front facade and identified several original features before unanimously concluding that the house retains its historic integrity. The board voted to deny Pickett's request and keep the building listed as Category 4 historic (the lowest designation). A Category 4 (contributing building) is defined as a building that maintains an appropriate design for its neighborhood and maintains its historical integrity, such as not having been moved from another location.
Board Chair Martin Bernstein said the board focused on what the building looks like to the public, not on the additions to the interior, the sides and the rear of the building.
"From the public's point of view, which is our main focus, we just didn't see those things to be applicable," Bernstein said.
The council disagreed with the board's conclusion. The results of the two studies, along with the concurring conclusion from the city staff, convinced members the building should no longer be classified as historic, a designation that Councilman Larry Klein said isn't always welcomed by homeowners.
"Being on the Historic Inventory is not a blessing," Klein said. "For some people it is; they're proud of historic houses and that's great. But for others it's a burden."
He said homes listed as historic typically cost 10 percent to 15 percent less than those that aren't. That's because homeowners who wish to remodel such houses are required to conduct environmental-impact reports, comprehensive and often expensive analyses.
"We shouldn't be putting through that process unless there is good and sufficient record to justify the house being on the Historic Inventory," Klein said. "I think clearly now, for this particular house, there isn't."
Councilwoman Karen Holman also supported striking the building from the inventory and noted that just because a building is old doesn't mean it's historic.
Pickett, who was joined in the Council Chambers by his family and neighbors, argued that because his house was found to have no "historic integrity," its inclusion on the city's Historic Inventory means that the inventory "means nothing."
"Our house lacks the sufficient historic integrity to be on the inventory and that should mean something," Pickett said.
The council agreed. Councilman Sid Espinosa said that while he enjoys walking by and seeing old homes like the Queen Anne-style house on Ramona, the resident's property rights should be respected. And Vice Mayor Greg Scharff said that while he is sympathetic to the HRB's concern about the building's "public presence," the home isn't "historic" as defined by the city's ordinance.
"We have to have an open and transparent process in which we follow the rules," Scharff said. "I think the Pickett family followed the rules, and I think that the conclusion should be the staff recommendation."
TALK ABOUT IT
Do you think the Ramona Street house should remain on Palo Alto's Historic Inventory? Share your opinions on Town Square on Palo Alto Online.
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