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November 1, 2008

 

By Shaun Bishop - Daily News Staff Writer

 

 

Tax breaks help preserve historic properties in Redwood City

 

 

The historic house at the corner of Middlefield Road and Elm Street was still standing after more than a century, but it was in bad shape.

 

Aside from the deteriorating roof, "the windows were open, the rain was coming in, the weather was coming in," said Charles Jany, principal planner for Redwood City.

 

The offer of a major property tax reduction, though, has given the property owners a stronger incentive to restore the house to its former glory.

 

"It's a little bit more difficult to work on these" historic properties, said co-owner Ron Beeson, who said the house was built in 1875 and was once home to the town marshal.

 

Beeson was at the house on Thursday, working on the next fix-up phases of replumbing and rewiring. "Now, we're into it up to our eyebrows."

 

His is one of four properties throughout the city that the planning commission recommended last week for a Mills Act contract, in which a historic property owner pledges to repair or maintain the building in exchange for a tax break of up to 60 percent. The city council will get final say on the deals on Nov. 24.

 

City officials say the program, established by a state voter initiative in 1976, has been a success since the first contracts were signed in 1990, allowing the city to ensure its relics are preserved and freeing up some cash for the owners to make sure the work happens.

 

The fact that many older homes have wood trims and may lack foundations makes them difficult and expensive to maintain, Jany said.

 

"Some of these are total miracles, some of these properties have come around so well," Jany said. "And some are in mint condition, and all we ask is they maintain them."

 

About 100 properties that the city has deemed historic are eligible for the program, though the city only has 11 of them under Mills contracts so far, Jany said.

 

Once a contract is approved, the San Mateo County Assessor's Office uses a formula to calculate the tax savings, which generally amounts to between 40 percent and 60 percent, Jany said. Inspectors from the city and its historic resources commission do annual checks to make sure the owner is keeping up their end of the deal.

 

While the particulars of each contract are unique, all start out with initial terms of 10 years.

 

Henry Yang, who is seeking a contract, has proposed trimming trees, repairing a carport and replacing gutters within two years on his eight residential units on the corner of Hopkins Avenue and Warren Street. In latter years, he plans to replace wood patios, recondition the original windows and repair or replace the roof.

"It's more maintaining, keeping the historical look of the property," Yang said. "I won't be adding double-paned windows or anything like that."

 

The other two contracts the council will consider are for houses at 821 Hopkins Ave. and 418 Stambaugh St. The owners of the Stambaugh house, Michelle Gaspar and Clark Chu, say their Gothic Victorian home was built in 1867 and features many original windows and a unique wrap-around porch with decorative trim.

 

"That's what really it's all about is retaining the character of our community," Jany said.

 

E-mail Shaun Bishop at sbishop@dailynewsgroup.com.