Dear Mayor and City Council Members: On Tuesday, July 11th at 6:30 pm, you will be addressing the appeal from the Planning Commission's denial of the demolition permit for the house at 126 E. Mira Monte also known as the Henry A. Darling House. While you all know the history of this home, it bears repeating how this home was turned into a mere skeleton of its former self. In fact, it was not too long ago, when this City Council tried to save this very home from demolition plans by the previous owners, the Brown family.
At that time, the City Council chambers were packed on several occasions by citizens outraged that one of Sierra Madre's historical treasures was slated to meet the wrecking ball. In response to this public outcry, and no doubt because of your own personal feelings about what was planned for this home, you voted to enact an emergency demolition moratorium and later a permanent demolition ordinance that effectively saved this home and resulted in the Brown family selling the home to the present owners.
Despite the previous community outcry, and despite the intentions of this City Council to save it, the new owners proceeded to reduce the home to a mere skeleton of its former self. Rather than an outright request for demolition as the Brown family did, the new owners had a piecemeal approach that allowed them to exploit a hole in the demolition ordinance (that has since been filled) which caused the Planning Commission to approve various steps along the way including the granting of a CUP for a very large addition to the back. I don't think the end result was quite what the Planning Commission had in mind for this house. It might also be noted that the Planning Commission would not have granted the CUP had they known the results of the eventual Historic Resources Report done by Mr. Fisher.
Ultimately, the new owners ended up triggering the demolition ordinance when they continued their demolition into the roof structure. This required them to now comply with the demolition ordinance and get a Historic Resources Report on a house that had, for all intents and purposes, already been demolished. As luck would have it, the new owners chose one of the City approved experts, Charles Fisher, who had been to the house at the request of the Brown family and, based on the architectural detailing he observed, no doubt conveyed to the Brown family that the Henry A. Darling house had historical significance. This was the same conclusion he reached when hired to do the formal report by the present owners.
After the Planning Commission expressed their outrage about the present owner's conduct in several acrimonious meetings, and ultimately denied the request for an after-the-fact demolition permit, the present owners hired a lawyer and obtained another Historic Resources Report by a different expert, who sure enough, came up with a different result - namely that the home in its present state has no historical significance. The owners now wish to cherry pick the second report to justify the granting of the demolition permit.
Preserve Sierra Madre is committed to preserving the historic and architecturally significant properties in Sierra Madre with reasonable rules and regulations that are consistent with the preservation mandates in the General Plan. This is why we took an interest in the Henry A. Darling House from the beginning.
You can decide whether there was any justification for the anger that many of the Planning Commissioners had about the end result of the owner's efforts as well as the owner's conduct and representations made to the Planning Commission. You can decide whether you want to undercut the authority of our Planning Commission by overturning their decision. You can decide if its fair to the Brown family who at least were transparent about their intentions for this home and yet were forced to to sell it when their plans for demolition were thwarted by the public outcry against its demolition and by your own actions to preserve the house. You can decide what kind of message you want to send to those who flout our rules and hope the threat of a lawsuit will allow them to prevail.
Preserve Sierra Madre has decided not to ask its members to once again pack the City Council chambers for Tuesday's meeting, speak during the public comment section, or send emails as so many people have done in the past. We have already done all that and it is a part of the record. Our minds have not been changed by the passage of time. We remain as outraged as ever. We now need to rely on all of you to do what's right in this case. You may want to google 126 E. Mira Monte to see the pictures and refresh your memories as to what this home used to look like and drive by the address to see what it looks like now. You can ask yourselves if this is what all of us had in mind, ask if this is what you had in mind when we worked together to save this home previously. You can ask yourselves if this is what our Planning Commission had in mind for this house as well.
Because we don't think this is what any of us had in mind for the Henry A. Darling House when we fought so hard to save it, we respectfully ask that you uphold the decision of the Planning Commission to deny the request for a demolition permit and demand that the present owner abide by what our experts on the Planning Commission think should now be done with a house that has historical significance and was once part of the fabric that makes Sierra Madre the town that it is.
Preserve Sierra Madre