La Jolla cottages survive another day as preservationists gain ground with the city
By Pat ShermanHistoric preservationists gained considerable ground last week in their efforts to save four early 20th century cottages in La Jolla that they believe are worth preserving for future generations.
The owners of both sets of cottages — one in WindanSea and the other in the heart of the Village — hope to raze them to make way for new development.
Tudor or too-da-loo?On April 18, the city’s Development Services Department (DSD) approved a coastal development permit to demolish two
Tudor Revival-style cottagesin WindanSea, to make way for the construction of a 2,563-square foot duplex that property owners Jack and Karen Visin hope to occupy with their two sons.
Preservationists wanting to appeal DSD’s decision — which found that the project was not subject to California Environmental Quality Act Review — asked the San Diego Planning Commission to delay hearing the matter until Aug. 8, so the city’s Historical Resources Board (HRB) could have a chance to consider the historicity of the cottages, and potentially confer a historic designation.
Preservationists say a historical analysis of the properties conducted more than two years ago by attorney Scott Moomjian and architect and Planning Commission Vice- Chair Tim Golba — the basis for DSD’s decision to allow their demolition — is woefully inadequate.
During Planning Commission meetings on June 13 and 20, the commissioners grappled with the issue of whether to allow a continuance, which would give the HRB time to consider the cottages’ historic value.
Commissioner Golba, the architect hired to design the Visins’ duplex, recused himself from both discussions.
During the June 13 meeting, Mayor Bob Filner sent his chief of staff, Allen Jones, to voice his support for a continuance. Though Planning Commission Chair Eric Naslund said commissioners would give “a great deal of deference” to the mayor’s request, after more than a half hour of deliberations the commissioners decided they would honor the request of the property owners and discuss the issue that day.
Moomjian argued that land-use approvals for the Visins’ proposed duplex were processed through the city’s Sustainable Buildings Expedite Program, and should not be subject to further delays.
“Delaying the project two months is thoroughly inconsistent with the very nature and purpose of this program,” he said, adding that the “question of historicity was asked and answered more than two years ago.”
Diane Kane, a member of the La Jolla Community Planning Association’s Development Permit Review (DPR) subcommittee and a former HRB staff member, argued in favor of continuing the discussion. She said her committee could not make the findings to recommend approval of the permit required to demolish the cottages and redevelop the property because the evidence they were presented — specifically Moomjian’s historic survey — was inconclusive. “My committee was reviewing this project when we were summarily curtailed in (our discussions) by staff’s approval of the (permit),” she said. “We were told at our first meeting, ‘You don’t need to ask (about its historicity). It’s been decided.’ Our question is, ‘Who decided it?’ This did not happen with any kind of open public process. All we’re asking is that the light of day be shed on this.”
However, property owner Karen Visin said she felt she and her husband had done their due diligence. “We are not developers and have our life savings into this project,” she said. “Wasn’t the question of historical significance asked and answered over two and a half years ago when we began this journey? We paid the City of San Diego for that answer, and now someone needs more time to revisit the answer again?”
Leslie Davis, chair of the La Jolla Historical Society’s (LJHS’s) preservation committee, said the society requested a formal HRB review in August 2010. Based on Golba and Moomjian’s historic survey (also referred to as a “forensic analysis”), four months later the city’s development services department decided not to request a HRB review, though the LJHS did not learn this until a notice was posted on the property in June 2012 that the cottages were to be demolished. When contacting the city for a copy of the forensic analysis, Davis said the LJHS was told the report was either in storage or destroyed. The current version, she said, refers to photos that are not included in the report.
“The report was written by the folks that want to develop the property,” she said. “We would like to take a look at that report and give the other findings regarding its historicity.”
Naslund opted to abruptly end the June 13 meeting, curtailing any further discussion, following another visit from Filner’s chief of staff, who voiced the mayor’s objection to the meeting on grounds that Filner’s two new Planning Commission appointments, Theresa Quiroz and Anthony Wagner (who Filner has deemed “neighborhood champions”), were not allowed to be a part of the discussions.
Though the new commissioners had already been sworn in, Filner later told
La Jolla Light, “They were told they shouldn’t be at the meeting” (while outgoing Planning Commissioner Robert Griswold, who made a motion not to approve the continuance, sat in on the hearing).
“The staff person said, well you probably don’t know enough to be at this meeting, so you should be at the next meeting; she just acted on her own, improperly,” Filner said, adding that he believes the Visin project should be subject to a full Historical Resources Board review.
On June 20, with the addition of Filner’s new appointments (who voted for the continuance) the commission had enough votes to postpone the matter to the Planning Commission’s Aug. 8 meeting. Prior to that, the Historical Resources Board will consider a historic designation for the cottages at its July 25 meeting.
Council upholds HRB designationMeanwhile, on June 18 the San Diego City Council unanimously voted to uphold the HRB’s historic designation for the abutting “Lillian Lentell Cottages” at 7761 Eads Ave. and 7762 Bishops Lane (built in 1915 and 1913 respectively).
“I support (HRB) staff’s work in determining that these cottages are historic,” said District 1 City Council representative Sherri Lightner, a La Jolla Historical Society member who made the motion to deny the property owners’ requested appeal of the designation (seconded by City Council President Todd Gloria).
“They are some of the last remaining examples of early beach cottage architecture in La Jolla. ... and I believe we should be making every effort to preserve and protect the remaining cottages.”
Representatives for the property owners argued that there was nothing significant about the cottages that warranted a historic designation and that almost no information about the structures, their architect or in- habitants existed in the LJHS archives.
Until recently, they argued, the LJHS failed to champion the cottages’ historic value. Moomjian argued that the designation should be overturned because the HRB erred in designating the properties due to factual errors in materials and information presented to the board at the time of hearing — most notably, the testimony of an audience member who erroneously claimed the property was on the LJHS’s historic walk tour — as well as violations of HRB hearing procedures.
LJHS Executive Director Heath Fox conceded that the property was not on the walking tour, though noting that the community has 130 historically designated sites.
“It is, after all, a walking tour and not a force march,” Fox said, adding, “Just because there’s no material in our archive on a particular property is not a factor or an assertion of the qualification of the property for historic designation. ... There are lots of historically designated properties in La Jolla for which we have no archival material.”
Fox said the city’s general plan and the La Jolla Community Plan both call for the preservation of architectural scale and character.
“Historic buildings anchor the scale and character of neighborhoods, and we believe that these structures have style and integrity, that they maintain their character-defining features and are the only remaining example of the beach cottage architecture in that particular block.”
Property owner Taal Safdie conceded that she knew the cottages were in the process of being considered for a historic designation when she and her husband purchased them — though she said they planned to appeal any such designation.
Safdie called the cottages “an eyesore for La Jolla and the neighborhood.” She also said the Eads Avenue cottage has no driveway or garage (adding to a shortage of on-street parking) and would be too difficult and costly to restore as historic structures.
Safdie said she and her husband would be open to a dialogue with the LJHS on how to relocate the cottages, so they can develop their property, as suggested by District 5 Councilmember Mark Kersey. (According to the LJHS, such an arrangement existed between the LJHS and the final owner of Irving Gill’s ‘Windemere’ cottage, before negotiations ceased and the owner had the cottage demolished on Dec. 23, 2011, via an emergency demolition project.)
“I think (relocation’s) an interesting option,” Fox said. “We’d be glad to pursue it with staff and the historical society.”
NOTE:On June 26, the San Diego City Council also voted to move discussion on the appeal of the Bernate Ticino residence to its Sept. 23 meeting. The project is to be built on the former site of Windemere cottage. Read more about that issue