Coastal Commission agrees to hear Stonehenge appeal

Property owner John Meehan has submitted a construction project to the Design Review Board with no idea when it will be permitted, if ever.

His plans may be thwarted depending on a decision by the California Coastal Commission. That board voted 10-2 Wednesday to hear the appeal of a City Council decision to permit the demolition of a South Laguna home and other buildings on the property owned by Meehan, preventing him from demolishing structures to make way for new construction.

The commission overrode its staff recommendation that the appeal did not raise substantial issue that would warrant a de novo hearing, which would mean the inclusion of information from all previous proceedings.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly featured a photo of the Halliburton house, not Stonehenge.

"If the commission had gone with the staff recommendation, no other action would have been taken," said former Mayor Ann Christoph, who supported the appeal.

Village Laguna and the South Laguna Civic Assn. filed the appeal, which opposed demolition of the house at 31381 S. Coast Hwy. built by Guy Skidmore, known as Stonehenge. It is on the city's Historic Inventory.

The appeal also raised issues related to an existing private stair tower built on a public beach.

Opponents made five points to support the appeal:

1. Significance to Laguna Beach history, including the buildings on the site and the pioneering public coastal dedications associated with Skidmore's development.

2. Critical preservation of buildings that gives residents and visitors a glimpse of the city's history and the opportunity to enjoy the quaint structures from Laguna's earliest days — in line with the California Coastal Act.

3. Rationale for demolition is the condition of the structure, due to previous unpermitted demolition by someone unknown to the appellants, prior to the purchase by the present owner.

The appeal claims that the rationale not only lets illegal actions go unpunished, but rewards it and sets a precedent for the destruction of other historic structures.

4. Prevention of Councilwoman Toni Iseman's participation in the council hearing of her appeal of the Design Review Board's approval of the demolition colored other council members' view of the issue.

According to the appeal, Iseman was advised by the city manager and city attorney that her wording of the appeal revealed too much of her opinion to be an unbiased decision-maker.

Appellants stated that it goes without saying that a council member who appeals a project must think there is something wrong with the decision by a lower body.

5. Lack of compliance with the Local Coastal Plan.

The Coastal Development permit issued by the city for the demolition does not include the required findings to justify the permit, alleged the appellants.

Christoph said Wednesday that the new owner bought the property knowing its condition and status and should be responsible for its restoration, not destruction.

"Of course I knew its condition — that is why I hired the city historian to advise me," property owner John Meehan said. "She testified publicly that the building had little historical value or integrity."

A second historian backed the statement at hearings and a third one privately supported the opinions of the other two, Meehan said.

"There was remodel approved in 1982 and 11 subsequent remodels," Meehan said.

A presentation on behalf of Meehan at the commission hearing did not include testimony by the historians or photographs of the building condition, so he was unprepared to rebut statements made by the appellants, Meehan said.

Meehan said the claim that Skidmore lived in the house is not true.

"He built it in 1924, went bankrupt in 1926 and lost the property," Meehan said.

There are two other addresses associated with Skidmore, one his mother's, but there is no documentation of Skidmore ever living in the house Meehan purchased, he said.

Despite setbacks, Meehan is proceeding with his project. He was scheduled to present a proposal for a project on the site Thursday night to the Design Review Board.

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