Vacant Cottage Will Get Bulldozed

Demolition was approved for a vacant cottage owned by the water district.

Reversing a city board’s approval to preserve a long-abandoned cottage in South Laguna, the City Council sided with the property owner, South Coast Water District, to raze what was described as a ruin.

The city’s Design Review Board earlier agreed that the 1928 cottage, sitting empty for nearly 40 years on Fourth Street near S. Coast Highway, should be restored and used as an office and storage facility with bathrooms for South Coast Water District personnel during a multi-year tunneling project on the property.

Without the cottage, equipment will be stored in corrugated steel containers and workers will use porta-potties for the six-year duration of the tunnel restoration and pipeline replacement project.

The water district appealed that decision to the City Council on Tuesday, arguing that the entire lot was needed to access and replace two miles of sewage pipeline.  The 35-year-old pipeline transports a million gallons of raw waste a day and runs through a 57-year-old tunnel within the ocean blufftop from Three Arch Bay to Aliso Canyon.  The district received the council’s go-ahead to demolish the house.

“Wouldn’t it be a preferable thing for the neighborhood to have interior toilets?  Wouldn’t it be better for the construction people to have a facility to have their lunch and use a regular restroom on the property?” asked Ann Christoph, a proponent of historical building preservation.  “We want to help but on the other hand we have an opportunity to do something beautiful at this corner that will help mitigate the impact on our neighborhood.”

The cottage as re-invisioned and suggested by Ann Christoph.

The tunnel is the first step in a $50-million renovation project expected to start by next September.  Much of the tunnel runs under private, oceanfront property without access for repairs or pipeline replacement, according to district reports.

“When it was originally built, there were probably a dozen homes there,” Mike Dunbar, water district general manager, told the council.  “If it would break or rupture, it would take us 18 to 36 hours to repair without adequate access” and affect thousands of people, he added.

He said that if tunnel repairs and pipeline replacement started at one end of the tunnel and ran to the other, the project would take eight years to complete.

The tunnel renovation and sewage-pipe replacement project is the district’s biggest and most expensive capital improvements project in its 78-year history. It will be primarily paid for by 30-year bonds as well as district reserve funds.  Customer rates, which will cover debt-service payments, may also be affected, a spokesperson said.

District representatives said landscaping will be added to shield the view of the worksite from passersby.

Mayor Toni Iseman requested the water district reward the community for its tolerance with a community garden when the project is complete.

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