It wasn’t criminal court, but at times it felt almost that contentious — with occasional interjections of OBJECTION! — as the city Hearing Examiner heard the first witness today in the fight over whether homebuilding will be allowed on the expansive front lawn of Beach Drive’s “Painted Lady.” The home — an official city landmark — is also known as the Satterlee House, and its former owner David Satterlee was the first witness to testify, several days before lawyers on both sides will present the bulk of their cases. We went to the Hearing Examiner’s windowless room on the 40th floor of the Municipal Tower downtown to see how this would unfold:
To briefly recap: Satterlee sold the property to homebuilder William Conner in 2000. At one point, there was a proposal to build cottages on the front lawn. Now, the property has been on the market for a year and a half, and a plan’s been in the works to split the lawn into three lots for homebuilding. However, because of the landmark designation (which dates back to the early ’80s), development would require a “Certificate of Approval” from the city Landmarks Board, which said no; Conner is appealing that decision, and that’s why it’s before the Hearing Examiner.
At this afternoon’s hearing: Satterlee, Conner’s lawyer, city representatives, and a Beach Drive neighbor brought in by the city as a “rebuttal witness” at the end.
Satterlee was there as a witness for the appeal; while being questioned by Conner’s lawyer for more than an hour, he said he had bought the house from his aunt in 1972, and she gave him a five-year option to buy the rest of the land; he took the option just before it expired, with, he said, the expectation that eventually he could develop the land or sell it for development.
During that questioning and the follow-up questioning by the city’s rep, the points of contention focused on how the property came to become a landmark — Satterlee at first suggested the idea was proposed to him, but the city produced paperwork suggesting he was the one who pursued it — as well as whether a big hedge along Beach Drive in front of the property came down before or after the landmark designation. (Preserving views of the historic home is part of what was involved in that designation, so there’s some importance i the issue of whether the hedge was blocking views from Beach Drive at the time.)
Satterlee contended that he had been told by someone from the city — he couldn’t recall who — that the landmark designation wouldn’t lead to any restriction on future development, which was not the case. He also said he sold the property to Conner believing the designation wouldn’t affect potential development; the city produced various items of paperwork suggesting Satterlee had acknowledged otherwise during the sale process.
As for the hedge, that’s where the rebuttal witness came in — he lives across Beach Drive and had provided the city with a photo taken in 1980 or 1981 (before the landmark designation) showing his kids and the Satterlee children in front of the “Painted Lady” property. No hedge. (An aerial photo shown by the city seemed to confirm the implication that it was taken down earlier than Satterlee recalled.)
Next steps: Both sides present their complete cases March 10 and 13. Once the Hearing Examiner issues her decision, that’s the city’s final say, challengeable only in court.