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One for the history books

Submitted by on 1, March 3, 2009 – 8:00 amOne Comment

3The city council is set to decide whether they’ll allow a Park Street property owner to demolish an 1890 Queen Anne on the city’s historical study list in order to build parking for a proposed retail development.

The property owner, Bill Phua, is appealing the Historical Advisory Board’s denial of his request to be removed from the list and to get a certificate allowing the demolition of the home on your left to proceed. The home sits at 2413 Buena Vista Avenue, adjacent to the former Cavanaugh Motors property on Park, which Phua now owns and is hoping to develop into retail.

Representatives for Phua have argued in city filings that the building is in poor condition and that they considered working it into their project but that fixing it up is not financially feasible. Consultants working for Phua have also said it is not eligible for either federal or state designation as an historic building. Phua did not wish to comment for this story, Barbara Price, a consultant working for him, said.

City staff took a look-see and found that some of the home’s exterior architectural elements and details had been modified or had deteriorated to the point that they believed fixing it would remove its historic value. “The result would be a replica of the original, but not the original structure itself, and would no longer be an historical resource,” staff wrote in a report to the council.

But preservationists have argued that while they support the Cavanaugh Motors redevelopment project, they believe the home does have historic significance and is worth saving. And they fear that if this demolition is allowed, many other homes on the city’s historic study list could also be removed. They have asked that the home’s owners move it elsewhere instead of demolishing it (something I understand they are making efforts to do, even though the HAB passed on that proposal).

“We are concerned that removal of this building from the Study List will open a Pandora’s Box threatening Study List removal of other Victorian Houses,” Alameda Architectural Preservation Society president Christopher Buckley wrote to the city’s Historical Advisory Board in a November 20, 2008 letter. (Buckley, by the way, said he supports the redevelopment project.)

In December, the Historical Advisory Board unanimously denied Phua’s request to have the home removed from the city’s study list, saying it is “part of a group of structures of particular historic significance to the City.” They said it’s not their place to decide whether economic reasons support removal of the home from the list.

Phua was back before the HAB in early February after the city told him he also needs to have a certificate of approval to demolish the home, under a separate city rule that requires one for demolition or major construction on any home built before 1942.

Some have questioned whether the city’s definition of “historic” is so broad that it tangles too many folks up in a ton of red tape. But others I talked with Monday said the layers of process provide a strong safety net against the loss of the Island’s many grand old homes.

The study list, by the way, is posted online by street if you’re wondering if your house is on it and how it rates in a historic sense (national register-worthy, state, extra on the set for inclusion as a group on one of these lists, etc.).

If this isn’t enough domicile drama for you, the council is also hearing an appeal on that front porch on Bay Street. And by the way, don’t let me forget to mention that they’re slated to approve an overdue police contract, the stalled Alameda Landing development (as in, are we still gonna get a Target?) and maybe, just maybe, we’ll get a little more city manager news.

As always, stay tuned!

One Comment »

  • Vince says:

    I think the process is working perfectly, it’s being discussed and will either work out or not. This isn’t the first time this owner has been in front of a city planning board, if the cost to possibly rehab wasn’t taken into account before he took ownership then it should have been. As far as what we personally think is historical that may be a matter of opinion but when you buy a home in Alameda you certainly know what the ordinance says.

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