Almost a decade after La Jolla lost its beloved Windemere Cottage, the San Diego City Council voted to pave the way for a new property to be built in its place at 1328 Virginia Way. In Council chambers Oct. 7, the City Council voted unanimously to vacate a previous decision that found a project to be built on that site had to meet certain environmental reviews before proceeding.
Built in 1894 and designed by architect Irving Gill, the former Windemere Cottage was demolished in 2011, after the City of San Diego’s Historical Resources Board determined the property was not historic and the City’s Neighborhood Code Compliance declared the house unsafe.
As previously reported in the Light, the La Jolla Historical Society and its preservation committee contended Windemere was structurally unsound because the Bottinis removed key structural features and exposed its interior to the elements. (At the Oct. 7 hearing, La Jolla Historical Society executive director Health Fox called this a “malicious and dishonest action.”)
In 2012, the Bottinis applied for a Coastal Development Permit to construct a new house; and in 2013, City staff determined the project was exempt from environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
That same year, both the La Jolla Community Planning Association and La Jolla Historical Society filed appeals to the CEQA exemption, which the San Diego City Council granted, “based on the fact that there was a reasonable possibility that the activity would have a significant effect on the environment due to unusual circumstances, and may result in a substantial adverse change in the significance of a historic resource” according to the City staff report on this project.
Further, the City Council of 2013 asked City staff to “reevaluate the environmental determination utilizing the baseline for the project set as January 2010, assuming the Windemere Cottage existing on the site. The City Council directed staff to reanalyze the project with the adjusted baseline and prepare the appropriate environmental document,” the staff report continues.
Representing the applicants, architect Tim Golba explained the Bottinis filed lawsuits, with the San Diego Superior Court ultimately finding the City Council’s decision that the project was not exempt and requiring the retroactive reviews to be an “abuse of discretion” and asked the San Diego City Council to set aside its previous decision that granted the appeal.
However, arguing that the appeal should stand (that the project is not CEQA exempt) La Jollan and La Jolla Historical Society board member Diane Kane called the “sad loss of Windemere” a “black mark on the City of San Diego’s cultural stewardship.”
She said, “This was a failure of City processes. Every step of the process was broken.”
Kane explained plans were in the works to move the Windemere Cottage to the La Jolla Historical Society campus for preservation when it was torn down, and a report had been filed with the State Office for Historic Preservation for historical designation consideration at the state level.
“The State Office of Historical Preservation asked that the processing for the (demolition) be put on hold. In the interim, the property owner purposefully impaired the property to impair its condition,” she said. “Then, the property was thrown into a dumpster on Christmas Eve when City offices were closed.”
Among her recommendations to the City Council, she cited a review of the HRB trustees, coordinating City designation procedures with those at the state and national level, and reconstructing Windemere.
Fox echoed the need for an internal review of staff communications and “a review of City protocols and procedures.”
He said, “The loss if Windemere serves as an example of what should never be allowed to happen.”
During Council member comments, District One City Council member Barbara Bry applauded the La Jolla Historical Society for its efforts and said she wanted to meet with those who spoke out to talk about the current HRB operations and whether they can be improved.
However, after commenting that “it’s sad to hear there were plans to move the cottage, which would have solved everything,” she moved to vacate the 2013 decision, which was approved by unanimous vote.
Going forward, the Bottinis look to build a two-story, single-family residence with detached garage and guest quarters on the site.
In his brief remarks, La Jolla Community Planning Association chair Tony Crisafi asked the San Diego City Council that the board have the opportunity for full review and advisement to the City on the project. It is not known when the project will come for local review.