Work on Halliburton House will resume

The Hangover House is giving folks a headache.

The City Council and folks in the audience of a special meeting Wednesday morning were split on how alterations should be handled on the 75-year-old home once owned by Richard Halliburton, also known as Hangover House.

The council voted 3-2 for the staff recommendation to remove a stop-work order on the interior construction of the home when more exact plans are submitted, which Community Development Director John Montgomery said should be a simple task.

Full and complete plans will be required for any proposed exterior work, to be reviewed by Montgomery to determine if permits other than a building permit are required.

One thing everyone seemed to agree on Wednesday was that changes are needed in the way the city deals with alterations on historical structures, not just the Halliburton House.

"What we have here is homeowners and a community that wants to preserve and restore this property," Mayor Pro Tem Verna Rollinger said. "It's hard for me to sit here and think we all want the same thing, but we are making it such a painful process that it is going to be hard to reach anyone's goals."

Mayor Jane Egly and council members Kelly Boyd and Elizabeth Pearson voted for the staff recommendation to remove the stop-work order.

"I am erring on the side of legal caution," Pearson said.

A closed session was held before the public meeting to discuss anticipated litigation concerning the issuance of the stop-work order on the house, for which a building permit was approved to repair damaged concrete, and demolish and replace an interior slab floor and support beam.

The removal of interior walls and cabinets in connection with the slab were previously left off the application and plans.

"We find the drawings and descriptions for the scope of work inadequate," said former Mayor Ann Christoph, summing up a well-prepared, five-part presentation. "These drawings/permits are blank checks subject to multiple interpretations."

Claims were made that the work already done exceeded the scope of the building permit.

Rollinger and Councilwoman Toni Iseman sided with speakers who urged the council to bypass the staff recommendation and require a more thorough approval process.

"We appreciate that staff has studied this matter, and they are recommending keeping the stop-work order in place at least for now," South Laguna Civic Assn. President Bill Rihn said at the beginning of the presentation. "However, we question several items in the report that lead staff's conclusions away from a comprehensive report and approach to assuring that the Halliburton House is preserved and that its status for the National [Register] of Historic Places is not jeopardized."

The presentation also proposed the project be subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and city codes dealing with historical structures.

Neither are applicable, according to staff.

City Attorney Philip Kohn said interior alterations do not require CEQA review, based on a San Francisco court case.

All work approved by Montgomery for the building permit and even the unmentioned removal of cabinets and a wall are inside the house and therefore exempt, according to the staff report.

Nor do city codes that apply to houses on the historical register pertain to the Halliburton House, staff said, because the house is not on the register.

Contractor Ken Fischbeck said the city needs to get a system that works. Iseman agreed.

"What happened here is the fault of the system," Iseman said. "Let's get together and fix the process."

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