Correspondent

PLEASANTON -- The city has approved a plan meant to preserve the historic look of downtown and draw more tourists and business.

Approval caps a debate that has spanned more than two years on how to maximize the downtown area's quaint, vintage appearance.

On Tuesday, the City Council approved all but one of the recommendations suggested by the city's Historical Preservation Task Force. Formed in May 2011, the committee was asked to create a plan to preserve the downtown's historical look while striking a balance with the rights and needs of the homeowners.

"It was a group of people with different backgrounds, and maybe even different agendas, but we did compromise," said Paul Martin, a Pleasanton resident who served on the seven-person committee.

Initially, there was talk of designating the city's downtown neighborhood as a "historic district." The task force ultimately decided against it because structures within such a district are subject to maintenance/renovation guidelines that would have been too restrictive, say city officials.

Instead, they sidestepped the issue by agreeing to define any home built in 1942 or before as "historic," and adopting regulations and suggestions for historic homes. These regulations only affect homes -- historic buildings that contain small businesses were not part of the discussion. City officials say there are 189 such homes in the city.

"Buildings changed after the war; tract houses became more common," Councilwoman Karla Brown said. "I was looking for kind of a natural break in construction, in the city of Pleasanton, and I found 1942 to be a good year."

Most notable among the new measures in place, the council agreed with the task force to limit the definition of "demolition" to only the first 10 feet, or the facade, of historic homes. That would allow homeowners to renovate most of the house without disturbing its historical appearance.

There is also now a requirement that the architectural design of any new homes be chosen from among a selection of city-approved historical looks. Garages must be detached structures on lots exceeding 60 feet in width.

At least a dozen owners of historic downtown homes attended the meeting to speak out against the recommendations and encouraged the council to vote them down.

More than one suggested that the city create incentives for owners to preserve the historic looks of their homes, rather than punish them for failing to do so.

"Most of (my neighborhood) was built before government came up with rules and regulations ... yet our neighborhood is one of the most desirable in town. Go figure," said Jan Batcheller, a Pleasanton resident who owns a historical downtown home and opposed the recommendations. "This area has evolved and is evolving because of the care of people who live there, not because government placed controls on it. Now, after 100-plus years, the city of Pleasanton has spent many months and many dollars trying to fix something that ain't broke."

Conversely, several people from the task force and local historical preservation groups spoke in favor of the changes.

The recommendations were passed individually, each either unanimously or by a vote of 4-1.