1928 Cottage Spared for Now

A neighbor peers at the long empty house where the water district plans a connecting tunnel to the sewer main..

South Coast Water District intends to appeal a prohibition against the demolition of a 1928 beach house deemed “unsalvageable” by city staff.

The water district has 14 days to appeal the Aug. 14 decision by the city’s Design Review Board to preserve 400-square-feet of the original house on S. Coast Highway and Fourth Street. “We can’t go to our board with a binding decision; they don’t like that,” Linda Homscheid, the district’s public information officer, said last Friday.

“If you go inside, you can see that the roof is falling in, the beams are sagging and there’s a gaping hole …where the water’s been leaking there for years and years and years,” Joe McDivitt, the water district’s director of operations and project manager, told the DRB members.  “The house is not safe to go into.”

DeVitt said the entire lot is needed for the water district’s planned excavation to connect to a dilapidating sewer pipe tunnel in the bluffs above the beach. Retaining the house would create unnecessary logistical problems.  “Not sure if there will be a construction office trailer because of the limited space,” he said, adding that the full lot is needed for truck turn-arounds, deliveries, material storage and construction equipment, such as electrical generators.

The placeholder appeal will be filed to give district officials more time to consider the issue, Homscheid said, adding that board members will likely weigh in with their decision next month. If the water district disagrees with preserving the long-vacated cottage, the appeal will go before the City Council.

Members of DRB voted unanimously that the water district can demolish the detached garage on the property and any additions made to the home but that the original cottage is to be preserved.  A staff report called it “unsalvageable.”

Although the building does not meet state standards for historic preservation, the DRB favored reviews by the city’s Heritage Committee that the building represents a slice of historic beach life in South Laguna.

“It’s part of the history of South Laguna,” said DR board member Robin Zur Schmiede. “There aren’t a lot of identified historic houses left in the city, and there’s only about 200 of these C-rated (contributive but not significantly historic).  Even the cottages that don’t have any architectural value, they don’t have any other history, they kind of make up their own historic value as a beach house and contribute to community that way.”

The house, owned by the Arnold family, was boarded up and vacated 40 years ago, according to water district reports.  DR board members suggested that the house be reconstructed and used as an office during the construction project or taken apart and restored later using saved historic materials and rebuilding the exterior to represent the original.

“It’s been a public eyesore in South Laguna for 40 years,” said Tom Slattery, a member of the city’s South Laguna Water and Sewer Advisory Committee but speaking as a local resident.  “We’re not talking about the heart and soul of South Laguna here.”

Even so, the district should consider the cottage’s restoration as mitigation for its project, which will be disruptive for years, said Ann Christoph, a South Laguna resident and proponent of historic preservation, believes. “There’s going to be a very tall wall around the whole thing. There’s going to be storage of all kinds of construction material and there’s going to be noisy activity going on for five to six years. If the district would just give us a beautiful little cottage that’s been restored in compensation for all the trouble that’s going to be happening to this neighborhood, I think it would be a wonderful gesture on their part.”

The water district purchased the lot last August in order to drill an access shaft under South Coast Highway.  The $50-million project will restore two miles of tunnel and sewer pipe from Three Arch Bay to Aliso State Beach.

“The tunnel is caving in,” said DeVitt.  The project is expected to take six years to complete and will commence in a year to a year and half, he said.



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