Residents in lower Bluebird Canyon sighed collective relief on Tuesday when the City Council denied an appeal that would have again halted construction on a large Flamingo Road home that has remained unfinished since 2003.
In another town, “someone would be in jail,” councilmember Toni Iseman said as her colleagues unanimously approved the 10,000-plus-square-foot house, which was initially planned at 8,300 square feet in 2000. The home’s foundation was poured in 2003 but construction halted two years later when a landslide crushed 20 houses and damaged 11 others on several Bluebird Canyon streets. Building recommenced in September 2010.
The three-story manse at 1000 Flamingo Rd. covers nearly an acre of land and is now in escrow at an undisclosed offer from Clay Berryhill, a Laguna Beach native. Bankruptcy documents on the property filed in June 2009 list the sale price at $3.5 million; real estate listings a year ago put it at nearly $4 million. Escrow is expected to close by Dec. 11.
Iseman was referring to changes, some approved, some not, made to the house and its blueprints over the years that neighboring cities with more “aggressive enforcement” would not have allowed. “It’s unlikely this project would have been approved today,” she added, due to changes to the city’s building code, particularly following the 2005 landslide.
Bluebird Canyon resident Al Trevino, a retired Irvine Company planner and one of 17 showing support for completing the house, said anyone in the private sector who allowed the same mistakes to occur in the approval process on this property would have been fired.
“Let’s finish building it, please,” pleaded nearby neighbor Lorelie Attridge. “Those sheets of stone didn’t get put up there silently. Anybody who’s heard a stone saw going week after week knows what I mean. Unless there’s a safety issue involved, I don’t see taking any piece of it down.”
One neighbor, Bill Brooks, appealed the city’s decision to accept the unauthorized and, therefore, potentially illegal changes. The decision was made in October by the Design Review Board. Another contention, said Brooks, is that the scale of the house is inconsistent and incompatible with the neighborhood.
“The most compliant thing the city could do,” said consultant Greg Vail, who represented Brooks, “is say that this thing does not comport with the approvals, it’s a wreck and it should be declared a public nuisance, torn down and started all over again.” Admittedly the purest viewpoint, Vail contended that it is consistent with the law and with what jurisdictions have enforced.
He added, however, that Brooks and his wife Tracy, the appellants, want the house completed instead of remaining “an unfinished eyesore,” as most neighbors do, but they requested that the mass of the house be reduced by taking down or lowering the third level of the house. The request was denied along with the appeal.
The architect for the Flamingo Road house, Kirk Saunders, made accommodating changes, such as moving the pool closer to the house, lowering retaining walls and improving landscaping. Saunders said no more concessions are planned.
“It takes a unique buyer to buy this property and take the challenges it has under their belt,” said Fred James, whose Bankers West Mortgage foreclosed on the property last year. “The Berryhills have the financial feasibility to not only purchase this property but to complete the property.” James described the dormant project as a blight and others described it as a constant reminder of the landslide.
“Forget about fitting in,” said Diane Stevens, referring to neighborhood esthetics. “It’s already there. Let’s just finish it. I’d rather have some large house than five small houses with the limited parking we have up there.”
Steve Wood, local musician and composer, who has a view of the Flamingo Road house from across a canyon, has been “watching it decay” for years. “We could hardly ask for a better solution other than some incendiary device,” he commented.
Berryhill said he and his wife, Delphine, were unaware of the “political hot potato” they were stepping in to and just want “to enjoy our good fortune to be able to afford to build in Laguna Beach.”
“I love this house,” Delphine told the council. “This is my house. This has been my project for six months. We’ve lost count of how much money we’ve spent. We want to make this a beautiful home for the community, for the neighbors.”
Iseman appended the council’s approval by asking city staff to create a “flow chart” outlining “where the city went wrong” in the building-approval process regarding the rocky history of 1000 Flamingo Rd.