Battle of Flanders
Carmel mansion is site for political squabble.
Thursday, February 26, 2004
A 1924-era house with a leaky roof and views of the Carmel Mission is one of the sticking points in the upcoming Carmel mayoral election.
Incumbent mayor Sue McCloud and challenger Dick Ely, a Carmel City Councilman, have “180-degree” opposing views on the fate of the city-owned property known as the Flanders Mansion, according to Ely.
McCloud supports selling the home and its property, which comprises approximately 1.5 acres of the 13-acre Mission Trails park in Carmel, while Ely, along with a nonprofit known as the Flanders Foundation, wants to restore the home and find a profitable use for it.
The mansion is the only building in Carmel, besides the Sunset Center, that is on the National Historic Registry.
On Saturday, February 28, the Foundation and the National Trust for Historic Preservation are co-sponsoring an event, “Protecting the Irreplaceable,” to discuss legal avenues to preserving homes like the Flanders residence. The event takes place at 1pm in the Carmel Women’s Club.
Ely and his supporters hope the event will drum up support for their preservation effort.
But McCloud says the city never intended to keep the Tudor revival style home, built by architect Henry Highby Gutterson.
“It’s called money,” McCloud says, when asked why she supports selling the mansion. “The city bought this property roughly 30 years ago with the intent to sell the home to finance the purchase of the Mission Trails Park. The city, in its due diligence, has had five different task forces to look at a use of the home to keep it, and none have had any use consistent with being in a residential district.”
McCloud suggests the home, which needs about $750,000 in repairs plus handicapped accessibility if it is to be put to public use, could be sold and the profits used for capital improvements in the city.
“It’s just sitting there,” she says. “If we sold it, since it’s a capital asset, the monies would only go for capital expenses, not for operating budgets like salaries. We might roll over the money to do something for public safety, like improving the fire station.”
Dick Ely, who along with councilmember Barbara Livingston has voted against selling the mansion, says that selling the home and making it a private residence would have a negative impact on the park.
“It has an impact on the natural setting,” he says. “There would be an intimidation factor for people who normally take their dogs and walk freely by.”
He adds that not enough options have been explored, including long-term leasing of the property.
“I have supported leasing through life estates—the owners take care of it and at the end of their life the property reverts to the city,” he says. “About four years ago there were several offers for long-term leases, but they were rejected because of the commitment of the current mayor to sell it.”
Ely, who says the deterioration of the home is overstated, says that if the city were committed to keeping the property, it would be fairly easy to apply for grants to preserve it.
“The Flanders Society raised about $20,000 last year, and I believe State Parks would gladly and willingly contribute money to it,” he says, “if it weren’t for the leadership being set on selling it.”
Ely admits that some of his ideas for the home, including using it for visiting conductors or professors, or for some “low-key musical performances,” may conflict with residential use of the neighborhood. But he believes that with a long-term view, the city could easily work something out.
“If you sell it, it’s irrevocable,” he says. “I believe people are making much ado about nothing. Look at the Tor House. There are dozens of facilities because of their nature that people are willing to accept in their neighborhood.”
Flanders Foundation president Melanie Billig suggests that the home could be used as a cultural and natural history museum.
“The views are quite extraordinary of the Mission and Point Lobos. If the city needs money, there are other ways to raise money than to sell off its assets.”