At last night's Planning Commission meeting, our Planning Commissioners stood strong and voted unanimously to reject Mr. Kefalas's request for an after-the-fact demolition permit for the house at 126 E. Mira Monte also known as The Henry A. Darling House. That decision may be appealed to the City Council and the applicant has 10 days to do so. Historical architect and Sierra Madre resident Joe Catalano and our own Barry Gold spoke eloquently in support of that decision during the public comments.
It came down to a conflict between two Historical Resource Reports. The first one by Mr. Fisher saying the house was historic and the second one by Mr. Carpenter saying that the house has now been demolished so much that nothing historical is left. The Planning Commission wanted a third report to break the tie so to speak. The applicant's attorney refused that request.
As a result of last night's meeting, we need to bring to your attention another problem that is perhaps more significant and has potentially wider ramifications for the future of preservation in Sierra Madre than what happens to that one, solitary home at 126 E. Mira Monte.
It is sobering to note that the Planning Commission's unanimous rejection of the applicant's request for a demolition permit was also a unanimous rejection of City Staff's recommendation to approve the request for a demolition permit. With the important role that City Staff plays in the preservation of our city, we have to ask ourselves how that can happen?
Is it because the City Staff develops too cozy of a relationship with developers as they go through the project together? Is City Staff philosophically opposed to preservation efforts and would rather see more revenue come into the city in the form of development fees? How many of the people who write the City Staff reports actually live in Sierra Madre and get stuck with the consequences of these decisions? This challenge is by no means unique to Sierra Madre.
When certain impulses within a city are not checked by a strong Planning Commission and City Council, preservation goes out the window resulting in rampant development and the whole-sale destruction of neighborhoods as we readily see happening in nearby Arcadia.
Regardless of why it happens, it puts our volunteer Planning Commissioners in the uncomfortable position of being up against not only the applicant and his team of high-priced lawyers, but also against our very own City Staff.
If the Mira Monte issue were to ever ripen into a full blown lawsuit against the city, Exhibit A in that lawsuit will be that our Planning Commission, and perhaps ultimately our City Council, voted against the recommendation of the City Staff.
In other words, our own City Staff is putting the city in legal jeopardy and effectively weakening the city's position by putting out recommendations that are diametrically opposed to the preservation mandates in the General Plan, our building codes, our ordinances, the will of the community and, in this case, our entire Planning Commission. This seems to happen often enough to be a problem that must be addressed.
There are going to be countless opportunities for City Staff to intervene with developers and others who may not wish to abide by the city's rules, codes and the spirit of preservation found in the General Plan. City Staff is our first line of defense. If that line of defense is weak or incoherent, then as we stated before, this may be an even bigger concern than what happens to the once majestic house at 126 E. Mira Monte. It will get the City into lawsuits and the City will lose those lawsuits.
Our desire at Preserve Sierra Madre is to have a good working relationship with City Staff but we need to be generally on the same page when it comes to the important issues related to preservation that come up from time to time. Based on their recommendation in this case to approve the demolition permit, it appears we have some more work to do.
Thank you for your support.
Preserve Sierra Madre