‘Windemere’ site redevelopment moving too fast for La Jolla preservationists
By Pat ShermanIt has been nearly a year since historic preservationists received a giant lump of coal in their holiday stockings — the Dec. 23, 2011 demolition of architect Irving Gill’s Windemere Cottage at 1328 Virginia Way.
Though the La Jolla Historical Society (LJHS) fought to obtain a historic designation for the 1894 Craftsman-style structure (one of Gill’s earliest designs), San Diego’s Historical Resources Board failed to deem it historic, citing a “lack of integrity.”
Now, the property owner is on a fast track to redevelop the site and construct a 4,918-square-foot, two-story home with a basement, detached garage and guest quarters — a proposal preservationists feel is moving much too fast.
Representatives for Golba Architecture are seeking to obtain a Coastal Development Permit for the project through the city’s Sustainable Building Expedite Program. The program reduces the time it takes city staff to review development permit requests by as much as 75 percent, in exchange for incorporating environmentally sustainable materials and energy-saving devices like solar panels.
The project was heard by the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee (DPR) on Nov. 20.
LJHS Preservation Committee Chair Leslie Davis, who attended the DPR meeting, noted that the property was referred to on the agenda as the Bernate Ticino Residence, with no reference to its property owner or Windemere Cottage.
“I thought, boy, they were definitely trying to slide this thing in under the radar,” Davis said.
In a letter sent to project manager Laura Black with San Diego’s Development Services Department, the Preservation Committee requested that a full environmental impact report be conducted on the property, which was not done prior to the demolition of Windemere.
“There could be artifacts on the property based on the historic nature of that cottage,” said Davis, who also requested the city conduct a California Environmental Quality Act report. Prior to demolition, Windemere was deemed historically significant by staff at the California State Office of Historic Preservation.
“The site was noticed for public hearing, which prompted the owner to quickly demolish it just prior to Christmas Eve, on the excuse that the building was unstable and not fit for habitation,” wrote Davis, on behalf of the Preservation Committee.
“It should be noted that any instability was created by the owner itself, by directing the removal of the roof brackets, eaves, and other features critical to the stability of the single- wall construction methodology of this rare, two-story structure.”
Davis said the property owner previously expressed willingness to relocate Windemere to an alternate site.
“The society believed that the owner was negotiating with it in good faith,” Davis wrote.
Davis also requested that the environmental report outline Windemere’s “alleged structural failures, ... how they were created, and who created them.
“Mitigation should include, first and foremost, reconstruc- tion of the lost structure,” she wrote.
In his own letter to the city, Dan Soderberg, chair of the Neighborhood Historic Preservation Coalition, wrote that “after the applicant purchased this property, character defining features of Windemere Cottage were systematically removed or destroyed in an apparent effort to render the building void of historic integrity. ...
“Our coalition asks for a complete review of this application, including the flawed Historical Resources Board designation process.”
Davis said that when questioned by DPR members as to what was on the Virginia Way property previously, a Golba Architecture representative responded, “a vacant lot.”
“She tried to pretend that she had no idea what (was there),” Davis said. “They didn’t have any contextual photos either of any of the things that you would typically have wanted. The (DPR) committee was not too happy with that.”
Though Davis characterized the proposed development as a “French Monster,” DPR Chair Paul Benton said the proposed development is closer to an Italian chalet, rectangular, and “very conservative.”
However, Benton said, DPR members had many questions about the demolition of Windemere, the appearance of the proposed development and its relationship to surrounding residential structures.
“It’s a fairly small lot (6,995 square feet), with buildings very close on both sides,” Benton said. “The (design) issues are focused on the appearance, and the height and mass of it.”
DPR members requested a litany of additional information on the project before moving the discussion to a future DPR meeting, most likely Dec. 11. The Development Permit Review Committee meets 4 p.m. the second and third Tuesdays of the month at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.