Company stops work on Wendt cottage

Installation of a lawn and sprinklers on property once owned by artist William Wendt was allowed to continue Tuesday, a day after city officials shut it down while they debated if the work was legal.

Developer Ken Fischbeck said he thinks the stop was payback for dropping his proposal to rejuvenate and relocate two of the three cottages stored at Big Bend onto the Wendt property.

Community Development Director John Montgomery said the city requested the halt and the property owner complied.

"I have the red tag that says, 'Stop Work' on my desk," said Fischbeck, vice president of Laguna Beach-based Tresor Construction. "It is the first one I have ever received."

Fischbeck blames Village Laguna's influence for the work stoppage, which he said came after he notified the city that the cottages would no longer be included, a decision he attributes to the community group.

"The actions of Village Laguna prevent a lot of people from improving their projects," Fischbeck said. "It's infuriating. The city is evolving and they use their tactics of historical significance to further an agenda that prevents responsible improvements."

Fischbeck's decision prompted Council Members Kelly Boyd and Elizabeth Pearson to sponsor an item on Tuesday's agenda calling for the immediate demolition of all three cottages.

Demolition might be held up if Fischbeck decides not to amend his application to exclude the cottages, but that is not his intention.

"Kelly Boyd wants those cottages gone, but he supported us — so I am not going to do anything to stand in his way," Fischbeck said.

Village Laguna supports the preservation of the cottages.

The work stoppage was requested based on a question posed to the Development Department by City Councilwoman Verna Rollinger. She said the call was not made on behalf of Village Laguna.

"A friend called me and asked if it was OK to modify vegetation on a historical property without a permit," Rollinger said."I didn't know, but I said I would see if I could find the answer. I called [Planning Manager] Ann Larson last week and asked. I learned Tuesday that it was."

Community Development Department Director John Montgomery said it was determined that the landscaping underway on the Wendt property did not violate provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act or in the Historical Element of the city code.

Fischbeck has City Council approval of a tentative parcel map to subdivide the Wendt property; however, it was conditioned partly on the inclusion of the cottages in the project, which he rejected in e-mails to the council and Montgomery.

"He has two years to apply for an amended map or for an extension," Montgomery said.

The city would prefer more formal notification than the e-mails, City Atty. Philip Kohn said.

"We would like to have something with his John Hancock on it," Kohn said. "In the case where a project is abandoned, we usually ask for a signed letter to that effect."

Work had not resumed on the property as of Wednesday.

"The workers had gone to other jobs so I took a little vacation," Fischbeck said by telephone from Mexico. "My plan now is to renovate the house, redo the landscaping, then put it on the market for someone who is a real Wendt fan — maybe it could be a museum."

No design has been approved nor building permits issued for the project, Montgomery said.

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