Landowner Devises New Plan for Old Cottages

Scott Tenney outside a 100-year-old former scout lodge he is restoring in Bluebird Canyon. He thinks a site nearby is suitable for the city’s soon-to-be demolished historic cottages. Photo by Ted Reckas

When Scott Tenney started pinning some figures to his grand idea, he found that moving one historic cottage from Laguna Canyon to his organic garden acreage in Bluebird Canyon would cost about $300,000, and that’s just getting it there, before restoring it to any useable condition.  So he’s planning on presenting another idea to the City Council at next Tuesday’s meeting and asking the city to share the costs.

His idea of moving two of the three battened and battered cottages sequestered in Laguna Canyon to his 15-acre self-dubbed Bluebird Canyon Farm fulfills his Bavarian wife Mariella’s vision of an organic community garden, sustainable-living educational center and family retreat with restored historic lodge, guest houses and artists’ shacks.

Some council members, however, would rather see the cottages razed than raised from the grave.

At the council’s May 3 meeting, the council gave Tenney’s architect a drop-dead timeframe of five weeks to resolve the final fate of the dilapidated bungalows.  “I stand on getting rid of them,” councilman Kelly Boyd said Wednesday.  “I don’t care what his plan is because it would probably take two or three years to get them there.”

Tenney has spoken with councilwoman Verna Rollinger as well as Mayor Toni Iseman about his proposal.  He, along with architect Michael Blakemore and farm overseer Jeff Higley, plan to present their new idea on Tuesday.

“We’re here to take a light touch,” said Tenney, a planner for BP Oil and Gas, citing plans by previous prospective buyers for his Bluebird property that included a multi-million-dollar mini-mansion and a multi-unit complex. His intention, he said, is to work in partnership to offer a low-key, mid-town meeting place for the community.

“I’m not interested in shouldering the burden on my own,” he said.  “But I am interested in being a major contributor to this overall effort.  If they (the city) say, ‘Hey, we have no money,’ there are other people, perhaps, not unlike myself, who might step forward and be willing to participate.”

Historic cottages in Laguna Canyon that Scott Tenney would like to have a hand in preserving.

Moving and restoring the cottages to his private hillside land would cost an exorbitant $750,000, according to Tenney’s preliminary figures. His next idea, he said, is less expensive and would already be done if he owned the property down the hill from his Bluebird Canyon Farm.  But the city purchased the 3.2 acres just north of the Bluebird Canyon tennis courts for $480,000 last April as open space.

Instead of lifting the cottages to his hillside farm, or “glorified garden” as he calls it, Tenney will ask the city to foot the bill for moving one or both to the city-owned lot.  He would then pay for restoring and maintaining them through a nonprofit organization he’s starting called Center for Sustainable Living. He intends to use the cottages as a hub for eco-educational and neighborhood meetings.

“We were looking down here, and there was an a-ha moment,” said Tenney, wearing a cowboy hat as he stood at the edge of his hillside retreat-under-construction and looked west toward the small riparian ravine across the street.  “We thought, ‘Why wouldn’t we be able to do something here?’  It’s much easier.  It’s close to the road.  You can drive a cottage right up from where it is to right there.”

The three historic cottages have been dry-docked in a canyon field for the past four years, waiting for someone to want them, and have weathered, some say not too well, drought as well as flood. They were spared the wrecking bulldozer and moved from downtown Third Street when the Susi Q Community Center was built. The worst of the three is scheduled for demolition by a volunteer kids’ corps through the Laguna Canyon Foundation.

Tenney said the co-architects of the plan are landscape architect Ann Christoph and architect Blakemore.

“We would like another hack at it on the city’s property,” he said.  “If it meets with their liking, then we could develop it fully.  It would be done as a public-private partnership with probably 100 percent private funding.”  The foundation, he said, would operate and maintain the cottages and restore the creek bed to its natural, native state.  “If they’re not excited about the project, then there is no project,” he said.

“I really admire Scott because he values the essence of Laguna, nature, history,” said Mayor Iseman, a proponent of historic preservation and supporter of saving the Laguna Canyon cottages.  “His ideas are so positive I hope we listen to them carefully.”


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