How to Establish an HPOZ

What is an HPOZ and how does it work?

An Historic Preservation Overlay Zone, or HPOZ, is an area of the city which is designated as containing structures, landscaping, natural features or sites having historic, architectural, cultural or aesthetic significance. To receive such designation, areas must be adopted as an HPOZ by the City Planning Commission and the City Council through a zone change procedure that includes notification of all affected and nearby property owners and public hearings. Once designated, areas have an HPOZ overlay added to their zoning, and are subject to special regulations under Section 12.20.3 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code. Each HPOZ area has a five member HPOZ Board to review and make recommendations on projects and promote historic preservation within the designated area. Most types of exterior changes or improvements to properties in an HPOZ area require written approval from the Planning Department.

What are the possible advantages of living in an HPOZ?

  • Control over inappropriate alterations: HPOZs offer one of the most effective tools to protect the unique historic exterior architectural character of neighborhoods. The HPOZ process ensures that proposals for exterior alterations, additions, and new construction in historic neighborhoods receive appropriate review and scrutiny. Designation as an HPOZ helps to ensure that the most distinctive, historic, and charming qualities of the neighborhood will be preserved.
  • Increase in property values: Numerous studies nationally have found that homes within historic districts such as HPOZs tend to appreciate in value at a higher rate than similar homes outside designated historic districts. Many homebuyers specifically seek out homes in unique historic neighborhoods and welcome the assurance that the qualities which attracted them to the neighborhood are more likely to endure over time.
  • Eligibility for property tax reductions: Under the Mills Act program, owners of “contributing structures” (those structures that were built during the predominant period of development in the neighborhood and that have retained most of their historic architectural features) are eligible to enter into a contract with the City that can result in substantial property tax savings.
  • Preservation expertise: The HPOZ Board, in addition to its formal role in reviewing process, can often serve as an informal source of technical expertise and guidance. Board members often offer property owners excellent advice on cost-effective ways to remodel their properties to maintain and enhance their historic character, and may even suggest local contractors and craftspersons who have worked on similar rehabilitation projects.
  • Enhanced sense of community: The HPOZ approval process can often bring a neighborhood together around a common source of pride: a neighborhood’s history and architectural character. The designation itself can help create a sense of identity among neighborhood residents and greater awareness of the neighborhood throughout the city.

What are the possible disadvantages?

Property owners should be aware that properties located within an HPOZ are subject to additional review processes. A property owner may need to make a presentation to their local HPOZ Board. Most types of exterior changes or improvements must be approved by the Department of City Planning: minor modifications may be approved very quickly, but more significant changes may be under review for up to 75 days. Projects that would degrade the historic character of the building or the neighborhood may not be allowed.

An HPOZ is also not the right tool for every neighborhood. Sometimes, neighborhoods become interested in achieving HPOZ status largely to stop out-of-scale new development. An HPOZ should not be seen as an “anti-mansionization” tool: other zoning tools may better shape the scale and character of new construction. An HPOZ is best utilized when a neighborhood has a cohesive historic character and community members have reached a consensus that they wish to preserve those historic architectural features.

What is the adoption process for a new HPOZ?

The process typically begins informally, at a grass-roots level, with a local neighborhood group organizing community meetings to explain to residents how the HPOZ process works and to gauge possible interest in creating an HPOZ. Community members often ask their City Council members for assistance, and most HPOZs are formally initiated by the City Council through a motion by the Councilmember of the district. Under the HPOZ Ordinance, the Director of the Planning, the Cultural Heritage Commission, or the City Planning Commission may also initiate an HPOZ. An HPOZ may also be initiated through a formal application by owners or renters within the district; in these cases only, the ordinance requires that signatures of at least 75% of owners or lessees be obtained.

Before an HPOZ may move into the formal adoption process, an historic resources survey of the proposed district must be prepared. The survey details the historic and architectural significance of the neighborhood and identifies structures and features as either “contributing” or “non-contributing” to the district. A contributing structure is a building that was constructed during the predominant period of development in the neighborhood and that has retained most of its historic features. A non-contributing structure is one that was either constructed after the major period of the neighborhood’s development, or has been so significantly altered that it no longer conveys its historic character.

Once the historic resources survey is completed, it is reviewed by Department of City Planning staff for completeness and accuracy. The Department of City Planning also holds public workshops and hearings in the community before taking the HPOZ through the adoption process. An HPOZ becomes effective only after the completed Historic Resources Survey is certified by the Cultural Heritage Commission. Because the HPOZ includes changes to zoning within the proposed area, it must be adopted as an ordinance by the City Planning Commission and the full City Council, following full public hearings.