Thursday, February 11, 2010
Carmel voters could be forgiven if they thought they’d put the decade-long battle over selling Flanders Mansion behind them.
An overwhelming majority voted to jettison the property in last November’s election, agreeing with city officials who consider the vine-covered English Tudor Revival too costly to maintain.
But preservationists have sued the city, contending that because the property is part of Mission Trails Park, the city can’t legally sell until it has explored other options, like leasing the mansion, which they contend it hasn’t adequately done.
The antagonists faced off in court on Feb. 10, but even as they argued their cases, it appeared that a settlement could be in the works.
“We’ve had a number of conversations since last November,” says Carmel Mayor Sue McCloud. “The doors are open. We’ve made some suggestions and haven’t heard anything from the other side.”
McCloud, who is fighting for a sixth mayoral term, has said she’s seeking reelection in part to settle the Flanders dispute once and for all.
“I think settlement talks are confidential,” says Flanders Foundation attorney Susan Brandt-Hawley, refusing to comment further. “The case isn’t settling this week.”
The seven-bedroom manse was built in 1924 by San Francisco architect Henry Higby Gutterson. It’s one of just two Carmel properties to appear on the National Register of Historic Places and the California Register of Historical Resources.
“It really hurts me to think of that piece of property being sold,” says civic activist Barbara Livingston. “It’s terrible to rip it out of the park.”
Livingston argues that Flanders could become a center for small conferences and a repository for the city’s archives, adding that she doesn’t think the city has explored all its possible uses.
City officials have argued that it could cost as much as $2.25 million to restore the mansion, an expense they say the city can’t bear in tough economic times, while preservationists respond that waging war over the property is also an unnecessary expense.
The city has spent more than $425,000 in legal expenses in the Flanders fight, and short of a settlement, no end to the fiscal hemorrhaging is in sight. Legal costs totaled more than $50,000 in January alone.Note: The print edition incorrectly stated that Mayor Sue McCloud is running for a fifth term, and that the city had spent more than $425,000 on Flanders. That amount refers to legal expenses. McCloud is running for a sixth term in office.