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A historic home on Neal Street in Pleasanton, Calif., on Thursday, June 6, 2013. A lengthy public debate emerged Tuesday at a Pleasanton City Council meeting, pitting preservationists against business interests who said "regulation stifles commercial growth" as the Historic Task Force delivered a presentation on whether to create a historic district in downtown Pleasanton. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

PLEASANTON -- Conflicting viewpoints on how to maximize downtown's tree-lined charm dominated a debate among council members and dozens of residents at a recent City Council meeting, where the Historic Preservation Task Force presented a slate of options.

Just about everyone agrees that the area's quaint mix of old-fashioned homes and storefronts is teeming with historic qualities and should be used to attract more tourism and business.

On one side, preservationists say that designating the area around Main and First streets a historic district will achieve that goal. Others say that will hurt business by cluttering the planning process with regulation and bureaucracy.

"There are some people in the community who feel that individual property rights are more important than preserving each and every old building," said Brian Dolan, Pleasanton's community development director.

At Tuesday's council meeting, Dolan delivered the task force's wide-ranging list of options, including whether to re-brand the city's oldest neighborhood as a historic zone. The seven-member task force, comprised of two planning commissioners and five residents, created the list after meeting 10 times in the past 15 months, Dolan said.

Most of the council members -- who are not expected to vote on the issue until the end of the year -- responded by saying they want to protect individual property rights as much as preserve history.

The council directed staff employees to clarify the city's existing policies and guidelines and complete a survey of the older downtown homes to determine how many of them might meet the criteria for being considered historic.

"It helps to streamline things," Mayor Jerry Thorne said, adding that he favors "some modest preservation without getting into the violation of property rights."

Thorne said he is not in favor of creating a historic district, but cautioned that no decisions have been made. About 50 downtown merchants recently submitted a petition to the city, saying that creating a historical district would create "unnecessary local regulations that will negatively affect current and future business and investment prosperity."

Andrew Shaper was one of 20 speakers at the council meeting who echoed the sentiment.

"I think the existing downtown specific plan guidelines are just fine," Shaper said. "If they haven't been implemented properly, more regulations won't fix that."

Councilwoman Karla Brown said downtown Pleasanton is "extremely valuable" and worth preserving. "Owning a historic downtown home is not for everyone," Brown said. "But for people who do want it, they should be allowed to have their home and district protected."

Bonnie Krichbaum, a longtime Pleasanton resident who serves on the task force, advocated for a historic district. "Our heritage homes and buildings, with proper care, will enhance the pride and quality of life for all of us and for the future generations, too," she said.

Krichbaum and several other speakers lauded Livermore's preservation efforts, saying that embracing its past has helped the city's downtown grow and prosper.

The good news for both sides is that they have time yet to lobby the council. The task force soon will reconvene to consider the council's suggestions, and its next slate of ideas will go through another round of hearings before the Planning Commission and the City Council.

"The task force still has some work to do and when it comes back to us, we'll have to decide what we want to do," Thorne said. "It's still a long way from completion."

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.