Election Section

Landmarks Commission: Secretary Bids Adieu; New Elmwood Marquee Approved

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday February 11, 2009 - 07:10:00 PM

Terry Blount, the first person to be hired by the city to be exclusively the secretary of the Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Commission, left his position Friday to become the new planning manager for Martinez in Contra Costa County.  

Blount, who joined the commission in August 2007, was praised by Dan Marks, the city’s planning director, and members of the Landmarks Preservation Commission at a public meeting Thursday as an asset to the city during his nearly year and a half long tenure in Berkeley.  

Marks said that although the implementation of a full-time landmarks commission secretary had been a huge success, the current economic crisis made it difficult for the city’s Planning and Development department—which is in charge of the landmarks commission—to replace Blount.  

“I really love this job and working here, but I just wanted to take my career to the next level,” Blount told the Planet after the meeting. “I am happy I was able to bring in a new level of professionalism and help in historic preservation.”  

Blount has been a city planner for more than a dozen years, and worked as planner-in-charge and secretary of West Hollywood’s Historic Preservation Commission—where he managed the city’s historic preservation program—before moving to the Bay Area. He is a native of Los Angeles.  

A member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, Blount holds a master’s degree in planning from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and has taken numerous classes, seminars and workshops on historic preservation.  

With new projects dwindling, the planning department is facing challenges financially and has reduced Zoning Adjustments Board meetings to once a month. The zoning board, responsible for issuing use permits, formerly met twice a month.  

City officials said that the land use planning division saw a 10 percent decrease in the number of use permit applications last year, calling it a matter of concern, since the majority of the planning department’s $13 million budget comes from development fees.  

“There are severe financial issues for the city and we don’t have the ability to refill the position with someone of Terry’s ability,” Marks said at the meeting. “That is the situation now, and when it gets better—and it will get better—we will fill the position. Terry has been a tremendous gift to the city. I can’t imagine anyone doing a better job. He chose to leave his position to go to Martinez, management is always a challenge but he is up to it.”  

Martinez is in the process of drawing up a new general plan.  

Debbie Sanderson, the city’s planning manager, commended Blount for setting a standard for the rest of the department.  

“Thank you for being a diligent advocate for preservation,” said Gary Parsons, vice-chair to the landmarks commission. “This is the first time we have had a full time secretary and we have been able to actively search for funds for the downtown historic preservation survey and organize Mills Act seminars and historic preservation training. It would be great to carry on with a full-time secretary, though it’s not possible right away.”  

Alex Amoroso, the city’s principal planner, will take over Blount’s responsibilities until city officials find a replacement for him.  

During his tenure, Blount worked to create awareness about Mills Act contracts—a state economic incentive program offered to owners of historic buildings for restoration and preservation.  

In October the commission approved Mills Act contracts for two historic Berkeley landmarks, the Durant Hotel and the Charles Keeler House, for the amount of $3 million and $106,800 respectively, for renovations that will take place over a 10-year period.  


Elmwood Theater marquee  

The Landmarks Preservation Commission approved a new marquee for the landmarked Strand—also known as Elmwood—Theater at 2966 College Ave.  

However, they were not too pleased with its owner’s proposal to inscribe “Welcome to Elmwood—Berkeley’s Best Neighborhood” on its northern wall, explaining that it might seem offensive to other neighborhoods in the city.  

Built in 1914, the Elmwood Theater was designed by Albert W. Cornelius in the Viennese Secessionist style, and the building’s exterior, including its marquee and entrance, were renovated in the late 1940s.  

The building’s owners, The Elmwood Theater Association, along with Rialto Cinemas Elmwood, the Santa Rosa-based company that manages the theater, told the board that the design for the marquee would be representative of the theater in the early 1920s.  

The theater is in the process of revamping its interiors, including its projector, sound system and carpeting.  

The owners said that the “Berkeley’s Best Neighborhood” painted mural, estimated to be less than 150 square feet, would help promote local businesses in the area.  

Board members acknowledged that although legally they could not dictate whether the sign could go up or not, they would prefer if it were removed from the proposal.  

“Elmwood doesn’t need that,” said local historian Steve Finacom. “It stands by itself.”