Out with the old - Page 2

Little House demolition stirs fresh controversy between developers and preservationists
After the "emergency permits"

It looked to me like people had just left it open."

Megan Allison Wade, who blogged about the demolition of the Lombard Street house, wrote in an e-mail to zoning administrator Larry Badiner that she perceived "a very clear case of willful neglect in an attempt to degrade the property into demolish-able condition."

Badiner responded: "This emergency demolition permit supersedes historic preservation and housing preservation procedures. ... Without commenting on whether this is willful neglect, public safety would trump any concerns regarding how the building became unsafe."

An article published by the San Francisco Chronicle noted that Nunemacher denied that he and Cassidy had neglected the property. When we called Nunemacher to ask him directly, the conversation didn't go so well. He said he was busy, and told us to read the other news reports. When asked if this meant he didn't want to comment, he said, "You are putting words into my mouth. I don't like what you are doing." Then he threatened to call the police.

Whether or not the property was in fact neglected on purpose is a question that may never be answered conclusively. City Attorney's Office spokesperson Matt Dorsey told us he was not at liberty to say whether an investigation is underway, but it's clear that any investigation would have to go forward without a crucial element — the house.

Attorney Arthur Levy made a last-ditch effort to try to save the Little House just before it came down, sending a letter transcribed on his office's letterhead to a list of city department heads. "What makes San Francisco different is our built environment," Levy says. "It seems to me that when a property owner willfully neglects a building, and that results in demolition ... there ought to be some consequences."

For some of those engaged in the fight over the cottage, the incident brings to mind past controversies involving the same players and others close to them. When an historic Victorian shipwrights' cottage at 900 Innes Ave. — which the city designated as a historic landmark last year — was under the ownership of developer Joe Cassidy, he had plans to demolish it and build condos, retail space, and a kayak center. In that 2005 battle between the RBA developer and preservationists, the preservationists won.

Another project that involved both Joe Cassidy and Nunemacher was a residential development at Fourth and Freelon streets. At the time that project was being permitted, one of the top-selling agents at Vanguard Properties, Jean-Paul Samaha, worked as a liaison between the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Department. In 2005, architect Kepa Ashkenasy lodged an Ethics Commission complaint against Samaha alleging he had failed to disclose a $100,000 loan from Nunemacher, who had been his romantic partner at the time, even when he was in a position of testifying before the Planning Commission in his professional capacity about the Fourth and Freelon development, Ethics records show.

The complaint was dismissed after Samaha lodged a counter-complaint against Ashkenasy with the Human Rights Commission, noting that loans from spouses and domestic partners are exempt from financial disclosure rules, and charging that her allegation was motivated by a kind of homophobia, a HRC document shows. Ashkenasy told the Guardian that she only sought to illuminate a conflict of interest — and added that she is a lesbian.

Servetnick said the case of the Little House highlights a broader issue of vacant historic properties throughout the city that are allowed to go to waste because it's more profitable to knock them down and build new.