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Historic Preservation

Defining Historic Preservation

The first document prepared by the County of Sonoma on preserving historic resources is "Historic Preservation Program: Sonoma County General Plan Technical Report" dated August 1976, which defines historic preservation by explaining the basis for it, what it really encompasses, and its value to County communities:

"In recent years the scope of historic preservation has expanded to protect remnants of what has happened in the lives and development of a people or society, whether it be at the national, state, or local level. At the local level, historic preservation can be applied to assist communities in the understanding and protection of their special heritage.

The Sonoma County landscape contains many unique features that make it an outstanding part of the California landscape. The great variety of landscapes found within Sonoma County have provided the setting for a wide range of economic and cultural activities throughout its history. The result is a landscape fabric of rich historical texture, an integral part of the environment needing understanding and protection.

Historic preservation is more than just preserving sites and structures associated with the lives of national patriots, statesmen, and other heroes of past eras; historic preservation encompasses more than Sonoma County’s Fort Ross, Petaluma Adobe, or Vallejo’s Lachyra Montis Home. It is more than just saving old buildings, putting them to practical use, if appropriate, and establishing criteria for creating an historic district so that the traditional design fabric of a community is sustained. In many instances, particularly in the conservation of structures, it makes good sense to rehabilitate buildings or to readapt old structures to new uses.

A fundamental basis for historic preservation is that the retention of the best of the past serves as a constant reminder of our heritage and development. Identity and pride are strengthened when a community’s history is interwoven with its developing fabric. The value of preservation, therefore, can be measures in economic as well as social terms."

The Beginning of Historic Preservation in the County

Historic District Zoning Ordinance

In 1973 the Board of Supervisors received a request by petition from 22 Freestone property owners to establish an Historic District in Freestone, and to designate specific individual buildings as an Historic Structure contributory to the Historic District, similar to the State of California historic preservation program. However, at the time a zoning classification for Historic District did not exist in the County Zoning Ordinance.

On April 23, 1974, the County established a program and administrative procedures for designating Historic Landmarks and Historic Districts through “Historic District” (HD) zoning under the Historic Zoning Ordinance (Ordinance No.1768), which also established the Sonoma County Landmarks Commission.

"Article XXVI(A). Historic Districts.
Section 26-192.1. Intent and Purpose. The Board of Supervisors finds and declares that the preservation of structures, sites, and areas of historical, architectural and aesthetic interest promotes the general welfare of the citizens of Sonoma County. The purpose if this district is to protect those structures, sites, and areas that are reminders of past eras, events and persons important in local, state, or national history, or which provide significant examples of architectural styles of the past, or which are unique and irreplaceable assets to the county and its communities, or which provide for this and further generations examples of the physical surroundings in which past generations lived, so that they may serve an educational and cultural function for the citizens of Sonoma County and for the general public."

In Sonoma County HD zoning is a "combining zoning district", meaning that it is a zoning classification applied in combination with whatever zoning already exists on a parcel. HD zoning does not change land use or directly affect parcel subdivision or property tax.

Historic Sites Inventory

Sonoma County’s first survey of historic resources began in fall 1972, when the Planning Department began coordinating with geography faculty and students at what was then Sonoma State College to conduct an Historic Sites Inventory. Work on the Inventory expanded during the 1974-1975 academic year to include geography and history faculty and students. The communities surveyed as part of the Historic Sites Inventory were: a) Glen Ellen and Kenwood; b) Bodega, Bloomfield, Valley Ford, and Two Rock; c) South Sonoma Valley; d) Cloverdale, Geyserville, Alexander Valley, and Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg; and e) Petaluma. Survey results were recorded on special forms that included the following for each property: a location map, a photograph, information on architectural and historical significance, a description of the condition of existing buildings, Assessor's Parcel Number (APN) and zoning, and owner name and address. About 500 properties are on the Historic Sites Inventory.

Historic Preservation Technical Advisory Committee

In January 1975 the County established the Historic Preservation Technical Advisory Committee, the major task of which was to review and elaborate on the raw data on the Historic Sites Inventory, and then identify areas suitable for preservation and future designation as Historic Structures or Historic Districts.

The Technical Advisory Committee worked with representatives from these communities over several meetings to develop a list of historic structures and areas appropriate for preservation. The list was incomplete because many areas of the County had not been surveyed.

The Technical Advisory Committee published the "Historic Preservation Program: General Plan Technical Report" in May 1976. It documented the County’s historic preservation activities to date, established the importance of design review in historic preservation, discussed how design review worked, and provided a list of historic sites and structures proposed for preservation.

Historic Preservation Program

The purpose of the Historic Preservation Program as stated in Article 68 (HD--Historic Combining District) of Chapter 26 of the Sonoma County Code is as follows:

"To protect those structures, sites, and areas that are reminders of past eras, events, and persons important in local, state, or national history, or which provide significant examples of architectural styles of the past, or which are unique and irreplaceable assets to the County and its communities, or which provide for this and further generations examples of the physical surroundings in which past generations lived, so that they may serve an educational and cultural function for the citizens of Sonoma County and for the general public."

The Sonoma County Historic Preservation Program includes the following activities:

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