Neighbors Gain Ground By RICHARD BRENNEMANIn Battle to Scale BackSisterna Tract Duplexes

Friday August 13, 2004

The ongoing battle between neighborhood preservationists and the developer who plans a pair of duplexes in the recently landmarked Oceanview Sisterna Historic District flared anew this week during a three-hour-plus hearing before the Landmarks Preservation Commission. 

Developer Gary Feiner wants to demolish an existing Victorian cottage at 2108 Sixth St. and raise the adjoining cottage at 2104 Sixth St. and transform both into duplexes. 

On March 1, the LPC landmarked both the home and property at 2104, but only the land at 2108 because the structure itself had been significantly altered from its original Victorian features. 

Feiner appealed the decision on May 12, and LPC hearings followed on June 7 and July 12, drawing substantial turnouts from preser vationists and neighbors who spearheaded the landmarking on one side and architects and development-related partisans on the other. 

Neighborhood advocates charged that Feiner’s plans significantly altered both the appearance and feel of the structures to a point where they no longer fit in with the character of the surrounding houses—a sentiment echoed by commissioners. 

Feiner and his architect had already modified their plans after the earlier hearings, but neighbors Monday insisted they hadn’t gone fa r enough. 

Even the new plans “would change the feeling of the whole district,” said Lori Pesavento, a licensed clinical social worker whose practice is located in the restored Victorian at 2110 Sixth. “It’s bulky. . .it doesn’t fit in with the original footprint.”  

“It’s shameful what is going on here,” said Jano Bogg, a resident of the landmarked home at 816 Addison St., who said Feiner’s project would make the neighborhood “look like a development in Concord.” 

Another sore point for Bogg, echoed by others in the audience, was the proposal’s inclusion of trees on a neighbor’s property as noise mitigations for the Feiner projects. 

“I would like to maintain the integrity of the neighborhood,” Feiner replied. “I want to keep as much integrity in the ne ighborhood as possible.” 

Curt Manning, whose landmarked home at 2107 Fifth St. lies with the landmarked Sisterna Tract district, charged that the plans for 2108 were at such variance with the other homes as to require a full environmental impact report—a point echoed by many of the other speakers, but not by most commissioners. 

Neal Blumenfeld, a psychotherapist who practices at 2110 Sixth with his spouse Lise, had planned to attend Monday night’s session, but remained in New York, where Lise has been u ndergoing radiation therapy. 

In a prepared statement read by Manning, he told commissioners that he believed that the project’s impact would produce cumulatively considerable impact on the district when weighed with other large apartment buildings already constructed to the south in the same block and thus mandated a full EIR, rather than the simpler impact statement city staff had drafted. 

Feiner attorney John Gutierrez disagreed, offering “my condolences” to the neighbors and charging that Blumenfeld had cherry-picked terms for the document to arrive at conclusions that were “kind of meaningless.”  

LPC member Carrie Olson volunteered to write up the comments of her fellow commissioners to send on to the Zoning Adjustment Board, which will take an i nformal look at the proposal during its Aug. 26 meeting. Though the presentation falls short of a public hearing, foes and proponents will be able to speak during the general public comment session early in the meeting. 

Commissioners also found fault wit h the formal Impact Statement prepared by city planning staff—which led them to issue a proposed Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) on the site which most agreed underplayed the project’s impact on the newly created historic district. 

While he said the problems fell short of requiring a full environmental impact report, Commissioner Aran Kaufer said he had particular problems with the architectural renderings of the duplex at 2108 Sixth St. 

He singled out gables, a dormer window, a skylight in front “like a Cyclops,” and an overall design that mirrored 2104 in a neighborhood where the other houses didn’t mirror their immediate neighbors. 

“I don’t like the way any of these drawings look,” said Commissioner Adam Weiss, singling out both the size and th e sheer mass of their appearance from the street. 

“We’ll sit here and take as long as it takes to get this thing right,” Kaufer added. 

LPC Chair Jill Korte called the design for 2108 “the intruder in the district.” 

“The visual degradation of the surrounding area requires mitigation,” said Commissioner Steven Winkel. 

Addressing Feiner and his attorney John Gutierrez, Korte said, “We feel we need mitigation that’s agreeable to the applicant, the neighbors and this commission,” complete with landscaping and street elevation plans. 

Winkel then moved that the LPC make a formal comment on item I c. in the staff report—which had found that the project did not “substantially degrade the existing visual character or quality of the site and its surroundings”—a nd calling for the visual element to be resolved by mapping and discussion with the developer, neighbors and the commission. The motion also called for Korte’s suggested landscaping plan, streetscape elevation and neighborhood map. 

The motion carried una nimously, save for an abstention by John McBride, who was sitting in for Commissioner Becky O’Malley, and had not attended the earlier session. 

After unanimous approvals of other items on their agenda, Korte then raised the issue of Gov. Arnold Schwarzen egger’s California Performance Review, in which a panel of 275 volunteers looked at all aspects of state government and proposed “streamlining” changes. 

Much to the disfavor of the commission, the panel called for elimination of the state Historic Preser vation Commission, which among other tasks administers the federal historic preservation funds. 

Commissioner Olson said she had just received an e-mail which indicated that the governor might not be able to eliminate the office because federal law mandates the agency. 

Korte said that while the law provides an exception if the functions are transferred to another state office, the commission should actively support the office. 

In the motion of Commissioner Emmington the LPC unanimously chose to draft a letter to the governor “stating our concern over the recommendation to dissolve” the office and the supervising commission “which are vital parts of our economic development.”et