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SOHO slapped down over Victorian in East Village

San Diego City Council goes for high-rise at 11th and G

Negatives: stucco added to the primary facade, changes made to the front porch, and a rear second-story addition.
Negatives: stucco added to the primary facade, changes made to the front porch, and a rear second-story addition.

An East Village house given historic designation in 2021 won't be saved, even though supporters say there are very few Victorian era buildings left in San Diego.

The city council on Monday unanimously overturned the Historical Resource Board's decision to designate the Frank and Rosa Woodford House, a vacant multi family home at 741 11th Avenue.

"The highest and best use of a site on 11th Avenue is not this resource; it's a high rise with affordable units and ground-floor retail," said James Lawson, an attorney for Daniel Magy, the building's owner, who appealed the designation.

At the time of the historical board hearing, the applicant was Liberty National Corporation — which has bought numerous properties downtown — working together with the property owner, Eleventh Avenue LP, to oppose the historical designation.

Although the house was built in 1887 in the Italianate style, with a"low-pitched hip roof with wide overhanging eaves" and tall double-hung wood windows, it has been significantly altered over time, Magy said of the "involuntary designation."

Among the modifications are stucco added to the primary facade, changes made to the front porch, and a rear second-story addition.

City staff said a decision to reverse or modify a historical resource designation must be based on factual errors, new information, or violations of by laws or hearing procedures by the board. Attorneys for Magy found photos they said are new information on which to grant the appeal.

In addition, a historic survey of the East Village area in 2005 had found the house not to be significant, its original integrity compromised by the many modifications.

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Why then was it later deemed eligible?

"I think the practice for many years has been, when in doubt take it to [the historical board]," Lawson said. "They nearly always designate a resource as historic," and are inclined to move ahead when Save Our Heritage Organization, the historic preservation group, finds a site worthy. 

"A historic report said it wasn't a historic resource. City staff agreed. Yet it still went to [board] and was designated unanimously with one extension."

Then the owner has to appeal to the council, and as the city attorney pointed out, "you have very narrow authority to overturn a designation," he added. 

"This is the 4th time in the last few years that I've been before you on behalf of a property owner fighting a historic designation over very good arguments. However, I think this appeal is the best example of why the broader program needs to be looked at and reformed."

Bruce Coons, the executive director of Save Our Heritage Organization, sent a letter of support for the designation to the Historic Resource board in 2021, calling the house significant under Criterion C "as a good and rare example of the style."

According to SOHO, the city has an "ever diminishing number of Victorian Era buildings. These resources once numbered in the thousands and we must take the utmost care of the disposition of the remaining examples."

Lori Saldana urged the council to balance preservation with the need for housing. "I understand the desire to put up very tall high rises and mixed use, but we have lost so much affordable housing in older buildings" downtown in the last decade, she said.

"We are pushing people out of the downtown area in significant numbers."

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Negatives: stucco added to the primary facade, changes made to the front porch, and a rear second-story addition.
Negatives: stucco added to the primary facade, changes made to the front porch, and a rear second-story addition.

An East Village house given historic designation in 2021 won't be saved, even though supporters say there are very few Victorian era buildings left in San Diego.

The city council on Monday unanimously overturned the Historical Resource Board's decision to designate the Frank and Rosa Woodford House, a vacant multi family home at 741 11th Avenue.

"The highest and best use of a site on 11th Avenue is not this resource; it's a high rise with affordable units and ground-floor retail," said James Lawson, an attorney for Daniel Magy, the building's owner, who appealed the designation.

At the time of the historical board hearing, the applicant was Liberty National Corporation — which has bought numerous properties downtown — working together with the property owner, Eleventh Avenue LP, to oppose the historical designation.

Although the house was built in 1887 in the Italianate style, with a"low-pitched hip roof with wide overhanging eaves" and tall double-hung wood windows, it has been significantly altered over time, Magy said of the "involuntary designation."

Among the modifications are stucco added to the primary facade, changes made to the front porch, and a rear second-story addition.

City staff said a decision to reverse or modify a historical resource designation must be based on factual errors, new information, or violations of by laws or hearing procedures by the board. Attorneys for Magy found photos they said are new information on which to grant the appeal.

In addition, a historic survey of the East Village area in 2005 had found the house not to be significant, its original integrity compromised by the many modifications.

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Why then was it later deemed eligible?

"I think the practice for many years has been, when in doubt take it to [the historical board]," Lawson said. "They nearly always designate a resource as historic," and are inclined to move ahead when Save Our Heritage Organization, the historic preservation group, finds a site worthy. 

"A historic report said it wasn't a historic resource. City staff agreed. Yet it still went to [board] and was designated unanimously with one extension."

Then the owner has to appeal to the council, and as the city attorney pointed out, "you have very narrow authority to overturn a designation," he added. 

"This is the 4th time in the last few years that I've been before you on behalf of a property owner fighting a historic designation over very good arguments. However, I think this appeal is the best example of why the broader program needs to be looked at and reformed."

Bruce Coons, the executive director of Save Our Heritage Organization, sent a letter of support for the designation to the Historic Resource board in 2021, calling the house significant under Criterion C "as a good and rare example of the style."

According to SOHO, the city has an "ever diminishing number of Victorian Era buildings. These resources once numbered in the thousands and we must take the utmost care of the disposition of the remaining examples."

Lori Saldana urged the council to balance preservation with the need for housing. "I understand the desire to put up very tall high rises and mixed use, but we have lost so much affordable housing in older buildings" downtown in the last decade, she said.

"We are pushing people out of the downtown area in significant numbers."

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