City Council OKs New Home

Dr. Richard Sun’s first big decision as this year’s mayor came in the form of a contentious tie-breaking vote at the City Council’s first meeting of 2017.
Sun’s vote to deny a petition to classify the home at 1470 Virginia Road as a historical landmark appears to have put to rest a public battle over the residence that has waged since July.
In casting his vote at the Jan. 11 meeting, the preservation-minded Sun also acknowledged that the public outcry for a stronger historical designation process was as loud as it’s been in recent memory and the city needed to enact changes as soon as possible.
“I know our ordinance doesn’t have a lot of teeth,” Sun said. “However, we have a general plan. If we don’t follow the general plan, why even have one?”
Sun was referring to an earlier discussion point, in which former City Councilman Dennis Kneier pointed out the city’s general plan decrees that designations of historical landmarks should come with the approval of the property owner.
“I think that the property owner has every right to petition the city to designate their home to be a historical landmark,” Kneier told the City Council. “What I object to is an outside person who doesn’t own the property coming in and telling someone their property is historic.”
The owners of the Virginia Road property — William and Madeline Chan — wish to demolish the current four-bedroom English Tudor revival and replace it with a six-bedroom Spanish colonial. The city’s Planning Commission approved the plan in July after determining the design fits the style of the neighborhood and the current home was not a historical landmark.
The Planning Commission largely based its decision on the assessment by the Historic Resources Group, which evaluated the home at the request of the Chans.
The current home, which was built in 1938, was one of many in San Marino designed by the locally renowned Theodore Pletsch. Jerry Stathatos, whose family operates a prominent floral shop in Pasadena, owned the home for several decades.
Resident Shirley Jagels, an advocate for historic preservation, delayed City Council approval of the new project by filing a petition to designate the home as a local historic landmark primarily for those reasons.
Jagels has passionately disagreed with the city’s assessment that although the home is a fine example of English Tudor architecture, it is not uniquely or specifically associated with “persons critical to the formation and existence of the city.” She and others also argued that Pletsch should be considered a master architect and criticized the city for allowing many older and well-maintained homes to be demolished in favor of newer structures.
“This proposed demolition is akin to a book burning,” Jagels said at the meeting.
Richard McDonald, the lawyer representing the Chan family, pointed out that other cities have extensive ordinances on designating historical landmarks and have at times conducted citywide surveys to identify potential landmarks.
“Your city does not have that,” he added. “Your city has an ordinance that is very broad.”
In addition to Sun, councilmen Richard Ward and Dr. Allan Yung also supported denying Jagels’ petition and allowing the demolition.
“I would not force it onto an owner,” Yung said. “It’s in our ordinance that owners have property rights. I will support a new building. To continue this discussion will only damage the goodwill of the community.”
Ward said he agreed the current home was “certainly not unique enough that it rises to the point where we should impose our will on the property owner.”
Councilmen Dr. Steven Huang and Steve Talt disagreed with their colleagues.
“I think the general consensus of our community is to preserve San Marino,” Huang said.
Talt said he felt convinced by a third-party evaluation by Arroyo Resources that supported designating the home historic because it was built during the city’s “garden estate” period from 1921-41 and the belief that Pletsch and the Stathatos family were, in fact, distinguished enough to be a factor.
The 3-2 City Council vote to deny Jagels’ petition was the first vote for this issue that night. On a subsequent measure to formally uphold the Planning Commission’s recommendation on the project, it again voted 3-2 in favor of the project.
In that discussion, McDonald indicated the Chan family is open to making valuable fixtures of the home — such as doors, lighting or the stained glass window — available to be acquired by interested residents or would otherwise donate those items to nonprofit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity. The dismantling would be done in a manner to repurpose as much of the material as possible, he said.
Jagels said she would respect the City Council’s decision and reiterated the urgency of preserving San Marino’s historic landmarks. Indeed, despite the repeated 3-2 vote, the City Council agreed that previous councils had “fumbled the ball” on historic preservation, as Talt characterized it.
Given that historic preservation is a listed target on Sun’s agenda this year, it seems inevitable that the City Council will revisit the preservation issue soon.

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