Rebuffing the pleas of historical preservationists, the San Diego City Council on Tuesday rejected a proposal to acquire La Jolla's historic Green Dragon Colony through condemnation and transfer it to a buyer eager to restore the cluster of four seaside cottages.
The council voted, 6-2, against a plan to begin condemnation of the 1-acre site and then sell it to the Chart House restaurant chain.
But the council approved a compromise on a 6-to-1 vote, urging officials with Chart House to go forward with an appraisal and attempt to purchase the cottages directly.
On Monday, the owners of the Green Dragon Colony rejected a $5-million bid by the restaurant chain to purchase the property, calling it "totally unacceptable" and pointing to a 2-year-old appraisal that set the value of the land at more than $6.5 million.
Plan to Press Ahead
Chart House executives, however, said they planned to press ahead with their efforts to acquire the cottages, which sit on a lot that slopes steeply from Prospect Street to Coast Boulevard just north of La Jolla Cove.
"We're certainly optimistic," said Patrick Goddard, a senior vice president with Chart House. "We do not see this as an exercise in futility."
Council members said they were concerned that the city might be left high and dry if the restaurant chain pulled out of a deal, despite assurances from city legal officials that such a scenario was not a pressing worry.
Moreover, the council majority suggested that it might be unfair to the property owner, a trust set up in the name of the prominent Mosher family of La Jolla, to tie up the parcel any longer with legal or legislative maneuvers.
"This community has no better citizens than the Mosher family," Councilman Bruce Henderson said. "We're really being unfair to the Moshers, who have been such fine citizens, by continuing this process."
Councilwoman Judy McCarty characterized the land deal as a "private property matter" and suggest that it should be left "up to the buyer and seller to get together" on an acceptable price without interference from the city.
But one preservationist, La Jolla architect Tony Ciani, said the city was undermining the effort to save the cottages by refusing to initiate the condemnation proceedings.
Ciani said the Chart House would be in a weaker bargaining position without the city's backing. In addition, any appraisal conducted by the firm will carry far less weight in negotiations than one performed under the aegis of the city, he argued.
"It's unfortunate the City Council couldn't recognize that the city has a certain responsibility in all this," Ciani said. "They are partners in this whether they like it or not. To get out of that partnership is, in my opinion, unfortunate."
The cottages, built between 1895 and 1906 during a Bohemian movement that brought writers and artists to La Jolla for solitude and inspiration, have been caught in a legislative thicket for more than three years.
In 1981, the city designated the colony historically significant, thwarting La Jolla architect Robert Mosher's plans to raze the cottages and build a 41-unit hotel. Mosher is the son of Alice Mosher, for whom the property is held in trust.
A year ago, the city's Historical Site Board denied the trust a demolition permit, kicking off a 360-day period during which the cottages were safe from destruction.
Although the stay on demolition expires Saturday, the cottages cannot be torn down until the property owners receive permission from the state Coastal Commission, which places a high premium on historical preservation. A commission decision would be expected in two to four months, authorities say.
Nonetheless, the property owners remain resolved to press for a demolition permit and raze the four cottages, even though the hotel proposal has been abandoned and current plans call only for the site to be landscaped.
Jim Kennedy, an official with San Diego Trust & Savings Bank, which administers the trust, said the property owners would give "serious consideration to a reasonable offer," but felt "no urgency" to sell.