Historic cottages to be removed
Nearly four city-owned acres at a curve on Laguna Canyon Road known as Big Bend, where three dilapidating historic cottages have been stashed for years, were decreed as pristine open space by the City Council Tuesday night.
Laguna Canyon Foundation president Derek Ostensen asked the council to set aside the property, bordered on either side by industrial development, as a wildlife corridor and trailhead connecting Aliso-Wood Canyons and Laguna Coast Wilderness parks.
Ostensen told the council that LCF recently received a $100,000 grant from the Orange County Transit Authority to restore the property to a native habitat within the next five years. City staff requested that the council set aside one-third of the parcel for possible use as public tennis courts or parking, which was rejected.
“I totally support your proposal with nothing else built on it,” Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson told Ostensen and Max Borella, 35, executive director of LCF. “I don’t want anything else on it. I want to see it as open space and beautiful with wildlife.”
“And no tennis courts or skateboard parks or parking, no bakery, no coffee shop,” added mayor pro tem Jane Egly.
“And no three houses,” said Councilman Kelly Boyd, who, four years ago, opposed salvaging the best of 18 structures in an old downtown neighborhood. The rest were bulldozed to make way for the Community-Senior Center on Third Street.
“They’ve deteriorated over the last four years. It’s time for us to step up to the plate and say enough’s enough. The houses have to go,” Boyd said.
In a surprise proposal, local real estate developer Ken Fischbeck offered to integrate two of the small cottages into still unapproved plans for developing the historic William Wendt property on Arch Street. Wendt, the best known of Laguna’s early resident artists, moved his home and studio here in 1912. The three historic cottages exiled to Laguna Canyon and saved from demolition were tagged for restoration as artists’ live-work space by Paul Gonzalez in 2009. That project was dropped six weeks ago by Gonzalez, who is now selling property he owns in Big Bend adjacent to the city lot.
“Our vision is to see those cottages sitting on the Wendt property as an enclave of historical significance for the city,” explained Fischbeck. He said his company would like to leave the cottages at Big Bend until they’re moved to Arch Street. Fischbeck said he was unwilling to remove the cottages if his project is not approved.
The cottages need to be removed to restore the area with additional oak and sycamore trees and native grasses and plants. Ostensen said he could demolish the cottages if necessary with the assistance of the Conservation Corps, a nonprofit that teaches vocational job skills to disadvantaged kids. In the meantime, Ostensen said they could be stored on a corner of the property near Laguna Canyon Road.
That suggestion infuriated Boyd. “At least now, they’re back in the trees where you can hardly see them,” he said, casting the lone vote in dissent.
By a 4-1 vote, the council agreed to allow Fischbeck two years to obtain building permits. Fischbeck and the council concurred that the third cottage is too unstable to be moved and Ostensen offered to have it demolished as soon as possible.