La Jolla Couple seeks two-story addition linking early 1900s cottages

By Pat Sherman

The new owners of two early 1900s beach cottages on Prospect Place (near Cave Street) are seeking to add a two-story, modern addition and two-story garage in between the cottages.

Having met with the city’s Historical Resources Board (HRB) staff, as well neighbors and the La Jolla Historical Society’s (LJHS) Preservation Committee, the owners, Kevin and Melissa Steel of Torrey Lane (who recently closed escrow on the property), and their architect, Tim Martin, came before La Jolla’s Development Permit Review committee (DPR) April 8 for a preliminary assessment.

“Historic staff seemed reasonably happy,” Martin said during the DPR meeting. “We think we’re at a point where we’re 90 percent or so able to satisfy (them).”

However, Martin said neighbors, including Roy Bell and Walter and Estelle Binder, are not pleased with the project, claiming the addition will block light and views, and lead to a loss of privacy.

The cottages are situated on a 5,400-square-foot lot with an easement providing access to a rear, two-story home owned by the Binders. According to HRB staff, both cottages at 7991-7993 Prospect Place are presumed eligible for an historic designation — something Martin said his clients would likely pursue as part of their application for a site development permit from the city.

Martin said he and his clients view the project as an example of balancing preservation with new development, similar to a project on Playa del Sur in WindanSea that received a historic designation from the city in February. After more than a year of wrangling with preservationists, the property owners decided to preserve and obtain an historic designation for the front (more historically significant) of their two beach cottages, while demolishing and redeveloping the rear one.

Melissa Steel said she is “thrilled the battle for the post office is being fought” and views her project as “a great opportunity to show how to preserve the history of La Jolla, (which is often) taken for granted.

“Why can’t we show people that with the help of community, we can preserve that past and still make what we feel is a very modest single-family home,” she said.

Martin said one issue HRB staff has with the Steel’s project is that it would affect the principal façade of the rear cottage, removing half of a porch.

Though it would be easier for the Steels to develop their property by removing the rear cottage entirely — something they initially considered — HRB staff didn’t like that proposal, Martin said.

HRB staff instead suggested the rear cottage be rotated 90 degrees to preserve the porch. To make room for the garage, the rear cottage would also have to be pushed into the rear yard setback, reducing the distance to their neighbors’ property line by five feet and requiring a variance from the city.

The rear cottage would become a master suite and closet, while the front cottage and entrance would include secondary bedrooms and a living room. The two-story addition would include a kitchen, dining room, family room, elevator and covered outdoor porch facing the ocean.

The Steels also wish to add a rear deck, and, potentially, a “basement” where the property slopes down, to include more living space, and a game room. Martin said the cottages are currently sagging and a foundation would be placed beneath them to make them level. New walls would also be built within the cottage’s single wall framing, he said.

DPR member Diane Kane, who also sits on the LJHS’s Preservation Committee, said the structures are among only 30 of La Jolla’s once prolific beach cottages still standing. When determining whether a beach cottage is historic, the HRB follows context guidelines established by the LJHS.

Walter Binder noted that Tim Martin was also the architect who designed his modern home above the Cave Store, in the same block.

“The Steels seem like very nice people and seem like they would make very nice neighbors,” he said. “We also like Tim … (but) the variance on the setback is going to put their bedroom and closet right next to our deck (and barbeque). If you stand on our deck, you can see it’s already close. Another five feet will put it too close.”

(DPR Chair Paul Benton reminded the Binders that they also sought a variance for their adjacent deck.)

DPR member and retired city planner Angeles Liera said she does not believe historic cottages need to be “formaldehyded,” although she added that the project calls for doing things “a little unorthodox.”

She asked whether the larger, front cottage could be moved closer to the street to avoid moving the rear cottage closer to the Binders’ property. Though Martin said the original chimney would likely be destroyed in the process of moving the front cottage, Liera said she’s seen similar chimneys relocated.

Questioned about project costs by DPR member Mike Costello, Martin said it would take more time and money to preserve the cottages than to replace them with an entirely new structure.

“We give a variance for setbacks on parking and other things” that aren’t as nice as this project, Costello said. “I’d like to see something be worked out with the neighbors.”

Condo project plans OK’d

: The DPR committee also voted that findings could be made to approve a coastal development permit and tentative map to demolish an existing residence and construct a two-unit, three-story condominium building at

7452 Herschel Ave.

(off Pearl Street), designed by Bird Rock-based architect Daniel Linn.

As requested, Linn provided a materials sample board for the wood siding, neutral tone metal roofing and stucco, an elevation study showing the placement of windows in relation to neighboring buildings, and driveway alternatives (for which Linn suggested adding a saw cut or groove pattern to provide character).