After months of deliberation, the La Canada Flintridge City Council voted Tuesday night to use the historic Lanterman House as a museum, cultural center and organ recital facility.
The council approved the plan in a 4-0 vote despite homeowners objections that converting the 74-year-old Craftsman-style mansion into a museum would increase traffic and lower the value of their homes.
"We've listened well," Councilman Warren Hillgren told the homeowners. "The Planning Commission has listened to concerns of neighbors and set up conditions that I think will give you reasonable protection. It's a worn-out expression saying 'Trust us,' but that's what you have to do."
Homeowner representatives later threatened legal action to block the plan, but city staff members said they believe that it meets all zoning requirements.
Debated for a Year
More than a year of debate over the future of the Lanterman House culminated in a public hearing last week at which some residents praised the museum plan. However, those near the house, in an upscale neighborhood north of Foothill Boulevard, protested vehemently.
The council postponed a vote when opponents questioned the legality of a conditional-use permit for the project and the adequacy of an environmental impact report.
An attorney representing homeowners near the Lanterman House said at the hearing that the proposal was inconsistent with the city's general plan and zoning codes, and that the environmental report did not sufficiently examine alternatives.
"The council must apply the letter and rule of the law," attorney William D. Ross said. "And there are very technical and substantive provisions that must be followed. The opponents are questioning what can be called the 'trust me' approach."
But city officials said Tuesday that the environmental report adequately examined alternatives and that the permit was consistent with the general plan.
Community Development Director Bill Campbell said conditions placed into the proposal by the Planning Commission will protect the neighborhood. The conditions would control the hours the facility is open and the number of visitors.
In the first of two actions, the council voted 4 to 1 to certify the environmental report. Councilman Ed Phelps voted no.
"We need to use the issues raised in the appeal as a road map to resolve this controversy," Phelps said. "A lot of alternatives still need to be addressed besides whether the EIR is adequate, which, quite frankly, I do not believe it is."
In a second vote, the council approved the conditional-use permit adopted earlier by the Planning Commission. Phelps, who owns a house near the Lanterman estate, did not participate in discussion or voting on the permit because of a possible conflict of interest.
"I could never vote to have that house destroyed," said Mayor Joan Feehan. "The house is a real place for real people. I hate to think the history we're going to leave our children is McDonald's and Jack in the Box."
Disgruntled homeowners near the Lanterman House said they plan to pursue the issue in court.
"They're forcing us to litigate," said Wayne Collins, whose balcony overlooks the house. "The points our attorney raised are valid points, and they failed to address any of them."
The house on Encinas Drive has been the subject of public debate since the death of Lloyd Lanterman in 1987. Lanterman, the last survivor of the family that founded La Canada Flintridge, willed his home to the city several years ago with the stipulation that it be used for civic or community purposes.
After Lanterman's death, the council considered using the house as a city hall and cultural center, but those plans were shelved after strong objections from homeowners. Then the proposal was made to convert the estate into a museum, cultural center and organ recital hall.
Last year, the city received a $500,000 grant from the state's Historic Preservation Grant Program for restoration of the house as a museum.
City officials did not say when work would begin.