Spaghetti Hill Story
Monterey considers historic value of Lower Old Town.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Craftsman, Spanish Colonial and Queen Ann style homes line the streets in Monterey’s Lower Old Town. The neighborhood—which sits above downtown, west of Van Buren Street between Pacific Street and Van Buren Circle, with Clay Street at its western edge—is zoned for apartments, and many of the homes are multi-family residences. Several lots have a small, old house in the front and an apartment building in back. This, as opposed to the hulking, 1960s-era apartment buildings that also line the streets, is what senior planner Kimberly Cole likes to see as she’s driving through the neighborhood on a sunny Monday afternoon.
“It’s an eclectic neighborhood—there isn’t one architectural style,” she says. “Keeping the house in front while allowing apartment construction behind allows more housing to be built, but also keeps the cute little homes.
“It’s an eclectic neighborhood—there isn’t one style.”
“There are some beautiful homes in Lower Old Town. It’s all about trying to preserve them.”
To this end, city planners recently surveyed the area, which is known to most locals as Spaghetti Hill. Between December 2004 and June 2005, they looked at 400 homes that were at least 45 years old. It’s part of a larger process to complete historic surveys, neighborhood by neighborhood, throughout Monterey.
In 2000, the City adopted the Cannery Row Historic Survey, and in 2002, it adopted the Downtown Historic Survey. Now Lower Old Town is ready for City Council review, slated for February. Two other surveys—Upper Old Town and Oak Grove—will begin this spring.
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Sicilian fishermen, along with Spanish and Portuguese families tied to the booming fishing industry at the start of the 20th century, were the first to call the neighborhood home. Sardine fishermen and cannery workers could walk to the wharf and Cannery Row.
Indeed, the build out of the Lower Old Town neighborhood coincided with the growth of Monterey’s fishing industry. By 1945, the decline in sardines triggered the slow death of the industry, which all but disappeared by the 1960s. The neighborhood began to transform and became more densely populated. Many first-generation owners built multi-family units on their property to supplement their income.
Today, Lower Old Town is a multi-family neighborhood with an eclectic mix of housing styles, and a diverse group of inhabitants, including students and teachers from the nearby Defense Language Institute and Monterey Institute of International Studies, as well as families and seniors. Its buildings range from Victorian-era single-family homes to Craftsman bungalows and cottages, to duplexes, apartment buildings and flats.
“One of the reasons one purchases or rents a property in a neighborhood is because they like that neighborhood’s architectural style,” says Mayor Chuck Della Sala. “We do not want to see whole-sale destruction of our residential neighborhoods.”
Under Monterey’s ordinance, historic zoning is largely voluntary, with owner consent required for most historic properties. But the City does provide incentives for historic properties in order to encourage owners to apply for historic zoning.
The City may also initiate historic zoning on very important sites. In November, it designated Wing Chong market and La Ida Café on Cannery Row historic resources. The City hasn’t initiated historic zoning on any residential homes, however.
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Cole drives by a brown, Colonial Revival style home on Franklin Street. The beautiful 1911-era home sat decaying and dilapidated just five years ago. Prospective homebuyers talked about demolishing the house. The City provided “zoning incentives,” Cole says, to make it worth the new homebuyer’s money to restore the house.
“In normal homes, you only can have two stories of living space,” she says. “We allowed the attic area to be converted to a living space—we tried to give them greater utilization of the existing structure.”
The property owner qualified for an additional financial benefit, derived from the Mills Act, a state law that gives owners of historic buildings a break on their taxes, to encourage restoration and preservation. The law allows cities to enter into contracts with private property owners so that they can get a reduced property tax rate.
In the case of the house on Franklin Street, its owners submitted a restoration plan for the house in 2004. Four public hearings later, Monterey city officials signed off on the plan.
“The owners get anywhere from 40 percent to 60 percent savings on their property taxes,” Cole says. “The flip side is that their rehabilitation project cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
It’s a delicate act, balancing private property rights with the community’s interest in protecting the character of its neighborhoods.
Historic (H-1) zoning designation has been reserved for nationally significant buildings, “the first, last, rare or only building of its type,” says City Manager Fred Meurer. “In other words, it’s got to be pretty important to Monterey’s history.”
But, Muir told the newly-elected members of the City Council at a recent study session on the Lower Old Town survey, “you could get tougher or you could relax the standards.”
The Council decision to adopt the Lower Old Town survey, tentatively slated for Feb. 15, will be the first indication of what direction the new council will take. Councilmembers say they look forward to hearing from the public at that meeting.
Councilwoman Nancy Selfridge, who was elected in November, listed neighborhood preservation among her top priorities while she was campaigning for office. She says none of her constituents have called her about the historic survey, but she’s hoping to hear discussion from both sides of the debate.
Selfridge owns a rental property in the Lower Old Town area and says she thinks that the survey “is a good thing” for the neighborhood.
“Everyone feels like Monterey is a very special place, and we definitely need to preserve our historic buildings,” she says. “They are an integral part of not only our history but of our economy also.”
Councilman Jeff Haferman lives in the neighborhood, but says that when it comes time to vote, “I will be as open minded as anyone.
“By preserving these historic homes it sort of gives us a glimpse into the past.”
He calls Monterey’s historic survey process “a win-win.”
Under city regulation, city staffers review any property 50 years old or older to determine whether it’s historic or not before owners are allowed to remodel the building.
Haferman says this survey “pares that list down to 150-odd properties that are potentially historic.
“If somebody comes to us and says I want to remodel my house and its over 50 years old, if it’s not on this list, then they don’t have to undergo review. It’s lifting the burden of historic review for about 250 homes.”
|THE WEEKLY TALLY||68||
Pounds the most recent white shark gained while at the Monterey Bay Aquarium for a 137-day stay that ended Jan. 16 (reaching 171 pounds). The young male, which grew nine inches, was fed mainly salmon, cod and albacore. Interested parties can track his movements at toppcensus.org starting May 1. Source: Monterey Bay Aquarium.