Sunday, June 23, 2024

Why is the City of Coronado Preparing A Historic Survey and Context Statement?

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Submitted by Mike Donovan, Coronado City Councilmember

The effort to prepare a city-sponsored Historic Survey and Context Statement began in 2018 as a recommendation made by a City Council subcommittee, which was made up of Councilmembers Donovan and Downey, who were appointed to review, analyze, clarify, and strengthen the existing Historic Preservation Program. One of the potential issues recognized by the subcommittee was that the existing process required historic review of any and every home 75 years of age or older before homeowners were able to make modifications to the home or demolish it. It was also recognized that if a property was changing ownership, the potential new owners would likely want to have the evaluation process done prior to completing the sales transaction, even if changes to the home were not immediately anticipated.

In addition, with each passing year, more homes were falling into the category of being 75 years or older, increasing the inventory of homes requiring historic review. As a data point, due to the post-WWII residential building boom, the number of homes built between 1941 and 1961 averaged 48 per year, up from a previous average of 26-29 per year for the preceding 30 years. As a result, more and more homes would need to be evaluated for historic significance, as the 75-year requirement moves forward every year.

This map can be used to explore the designated Historic Resources in Coronado. Each pin represents a designated Historic Resource: click on the pins to see pictures and learn why each property was designated. This map and additional information can be found here.

With an eye toward providing a finer evaluation criterion than age alone and with unanimous approval by the city council, staff was tasked to evaluate properties built through 1970, which is in line with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) threshold of 50 years. In February 2019, the City Council awarded a contract to Dudek and Associates to prepare the Historic Survey and Context Statement. The Historic Context Statement serves as a narrative of Coronado’s history and its built environment, identifying important themes, property types, patterns of development, significant events, and people that have shaped our history.

To clarify a few facts. The survey does not include any effort to modify or change the requirements for a home to be designated as historic. For a property to be designated historic, the home must meet at least two of the city’s criteria, all of which follow U.S. Department of the Interior guidelines, and there are no plans to change that. (Definitions for each criterion can be found on the City’s Historic Preservation webpage which can be accessed at the link at the end of this article). Also, there will be no changes to when a property can be submitted for potential historic designation. Any property owner can submit their home for determination as historic at any time. For example, the current process requires homes 75 years or older to be submitted for historic evaluation if demolition or modification is planned, but a home can be any age to be submitted for historic evaluation.

The historic survey provides an evaluation of structures constructed through 1970 and identifies those that appear to be significant under Coronado’s Historic Designation Criterion C, which relates to architectural significance. To qualify for Criterion C, the structure should retain enough character-defining features to be truly representative of an architectural style, and should be unaltered or minimally altered from its original condition. Although it is possible for properties to meet the threshold for historic designation by meeting two other criteria, not including Criteria C, this has occurred only eight times for the more than 240 homes currently designated as historic, a rate of 3%. In other words, architectural significance has proven to be the most important predictor in qualifying a home as historic.

The inventory includes only homes in the Village built prior to 1970 (the previous process only required review of homes built prior to 1948). Cays homes are not included in this initial review since development occurred after 1970. These homes will start to be included in future periodic updates planned for every five years.

Throughout 2020 and 2021 Dudek conducted in-depth research at local archives and repositories, including the Coronado Historical Association, to develop the Context Statement and prepare a database of all structures in Coronado and their build dates. This front-end research identified inaccurate build dates in the data on file at the County of San Diego. So, City staff double-checked all dates against the building permit records, Sanborn Maps, and Lot Books on file at City Hall. They also added information on builders and architects if they were identified in permit records.

Throughout 2021, Dudek walked the neighborhoods conducting the Citywide Survey, and in January 2022, the survey matrix was provided to staff. Staff and Dudek worked together to categorize each property, refine the list of locally significant architectural styles, and develop thresholds for significance. The documents provide a proposed list consisting of three tiers, which are defined and can be reviewed in the draft. And again, being in any of the tiers does not preclude a homeowner from submitting their home to be evaluated for historic designation, which would occur as long as at least two criteria are met.

At the June 20, 2023, City Council meeting, staff reviewed the draft Historic Context Statement and Survey for Council and the public. At that meeting, City Council directed staff to open a 60-day public comment period (ending August 20); hold public outreach workshops; and collect public comment, returning to the City Council to review specific direction for any changes to the document before it is implemented.

Because of ongoing public interest, the public comment period has been extended to October 31, 2023. The documents can be reviewed at, and comments can be submitted via this link. In addition, hard copies of the draft Context Statement are also available at the Planning counter at City Hall and at the Coronado Library. Two additional public forums are scheduled to be held at the Coronado Historic Resource Commission (HRC) meeting on Wednesday, September 20, 2023, at 3 pm in City Council Chambers; a second forum is scheduled for Wednesday, October 11, 2023, at 5:30 pm in the Coronado Public Library Winn Room.

We all value our Coronado history, and our process for preserving our historic homes is key to that end. I encourage everyone to review the documents and provide any comments you may have. Thanks to everyone who has commented so far, and we look forward to your continued involvement.

Mike Donovan
City Councilmember

Managing Editor
Managing Editor
Originally from upstate New York, Dani Schwartz has lived in Coronado since 1996. She is happy to call Coronado home and to have raised her children here. In her free time she enjoys reading, exercising, trying new restaurants, and just walking her dog around the "island." Have news to share? Send tips or story ideas to: [email protected]

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