San Ramon commission to debate Harlan House relocation

Family proposes to move 160-year-old home to their property, but issues with open space designation and costs remain

The San Ramon Planning Commission is set to weigh a proposal Tuesday from a local family to move the Harlan House down the road to their property in the hopes of restoring the 160-year-old home that could face demolition after years of failed preservation attempts.

The Starkweather family proposes to relocate the Harlan House, now owned by the El Nido Trust, from the corner of San Ramon Valley Boulevard and Westside Drive to their property on Pine Valley Road behind Forest Home Farms Historic Park and rehabilitate the house to make it a private home with periodic opportunity for public tours.

The plan would save the house and allow the El Nido Trust to move forward with their desire to develop their property with new homes, but it still faces challenges related to project financing and the relocation property being designated as open space in perpetuity, according to Lauren Barr, city senior planner.

"The El Nido House has a long history and there is a desire by many to preserve the house," Barr wrote in a staff report to the commission. "The city has not been in a position to take on the financial obligation with moving the house to a city park, and the property owner is looking at potential demolition in order to move forward with their plans for the property."

The house, now located at 19251 San Ramon Valley Blvd., dates back to the mid-1850s, making it one of the oldest homes in the Valley although it isn't designated as an historic structure, Barr said.

The El Nido Trust has offered the house to the city in the past, but the city hasn't wanted to take on long-term obligations associated with house restoration and maintenance, Barr said.

With no apparent alternative available, the trust in March submitted a demolition permit request to tear down the Harlan House to clear space for a potential development, Barr said. The house site was changed from a parks designation to single-family medium-density residential in 2011 at the owners' request.

But the demolition plan, which would likely require a full environmental impact report and a statement of overriding considerations due to the possibility of the house being listed as a historic resource, has been on hold after the Starkweather family introduced their relocation idea in July.

The concept calls for moving the Harlan House about 1.25 miles away to 2610 Pine Valley Road, a 5.6-acre site designated as open space behind Forest Home Farms and Grace United Methodist Church.

The house would be stabilized and rehabilitated, with the exterior maintained to look historically accurate, the interior brought up to current code requirements and the additions of a new kitchen and detached carriage house under the proposal, which is supported by the Museum of the San Ramon Valley, Barr said.

The relocation site has a conservation easement in place to preserve the open space and scenic values of the property in perpetuity, so the city would need to approve an easement amendment to accommodate the house move.

The city's Open Space Advisory Committee in November rejected the house relocation proposal and asked the applicant to enhance its plans to strengthen the conservation easement and better address issues like signage, trail access and the parking area, Barr said.

San Ramon officials may also have to weigh the Starkweathers' request for financial support.

The family has asked for $100,000 from the El Nido Trust, the city or interested parties to help with the move costs, and the trust agreed to commit $35,000 to the project, Barr said. That leaves $65,000, and the Starkweathers have suggested that balance could be addressed through city permit fee waivers or in-kind services associated with relocation and restoration.

The Planning Commission is set to review the relocation proposal Tuesday evening.

If the commissioners recommend amending the conservation easement, the Starkweather proposal will be forwarded to the City Council or its Policy Committee. If the proposal is rejected, city staff will work with the Starkweathers to address the commission's comments and the El Nido Trust's demolition plan could be back in play, Barr said.

The commission meeting is scheduled to get underway at 7 p.m. at San Ramon City Hall, 2222 Camino Ramon.

In other business Tuesday night, the commission will receive a report on the zoning ordinance update from associate planner Cindy Yee.

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Like this comment
Posted by MarkSindone
a resident of Del Amigo Continuation High School
on Mar 22, 2016 at 9:32 pm

MarkSindone is a registered user.

It would be sad if such a house full of so much history would be torn down like this. Let’s hope that whatever the solution is, it's done before the house crumbles from lack of care and maintenance!

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