CARMEL VALLEY — An effort to have a mall in Carmel Valley be considered a historic resource collapsed Tuesday in a split vote following some terse back and forth between Monterey County lawmakers.
At issue is the Mid Valley Mall near Carmel Valley Road, where owner Russell Stanley wants to upgrade the design features of the 68,000 square foot mall. The effort to have it designated as a local historic resource has been championed by neighbors and members of the Carmel Valley Association who oppose any design changes.
Craig Spencer, the county’s Department of Housing and Community Development chief planner, presented supervisors with a detailed report of the issues surrounding the effort to designate it as a historic resource, including findings from architectural experts from both sides of the debate.
The designation of a local historic resource would have significantly limited the types of improvements Stanley considered. The debate was sparked when Stanley began changing the center’s paint colors in 2019.
Stanley brought in several architectural design experts to speak in front of supervisors, as well as his attorney, Salinas-based Anthony Lombardo. Lombardo’s points were intended to show that the mall’s architect, Olof Dahlstrand, was not considered a “master architect,” a designation necessary for the mall to be considered a historic resource.
Opponents of the design changes argued that Dahlstrand deserved such laurels. But Lombardo, who specializes in land use law, argued that while Dahlstrand was a decent architect, he shouldn’t be considered a “master” because he was so heavily influenced by Frank’s iconic work. Lloyd Wright that his designs were little more than copies of Wright’s work.
To further this point, Henry Ruhnke, principal at Wald, Ruhnke and Dost Architects in Monterey, showed supervisors a series of side-by-side images of Dahlstrand and Wright’s work with what appeared to be obvious similarities. Ruhnke said Dahlstrand’s designs were “complete duplications” and “replicas” of Wright’s.
Barbara Lambrecht, director of Modern Resources, a Pasadena-based published author and expert in historic architectural design restoration, told supervisors that Dahlstrand’s work did not meet the standards of a master architect.
She also took issue with the description of a Dahlstrand consultant as a “master of local importance”.
“I’ve never heard of such a designation,” she says.
Supporters of a historic designation who spoke via Zoom were all Carmel Valley residents, many of whom identified themselves as members of the Carmel Valley Association. Most were reluctant to debate the merits of Dahlstrand and instead focused on the aesthetics of the center and its importance to residents.
Luana Conley referred to the results of a survey in which the majority of respondents wanted to maintain the current integrity of the center. She said she believed the center was an “important cultural structure”.
Carmel Valley resident Larry Bacon told supervisors that Dahlstrand’s design “is a work of art.” He went on to say that he was concerned that “property rights trump the public good”.
And John Heyl reminded supervisors that the county’s Historic Advisory Board had already ruled 7-1 to designate it as a historic resource. The commission, however, is not a legislative body and can only make recommendations to the council.
At the end of the comment period, each supervisor gave their opinion. Supervisor Chris Lopez said he would welcome someone to his district in southern Monterey County to redevelop a mall. And supervisor John Phillips said he didn’t believe Dahlstrand was a master architect and when he visited Mid Valley it was “clearly a shopping center in need of a facelift”.
Phillips also questioned the analysis of Diana Painter, an expert who argued that Dahlstrand was indeed a master architect. Phillips alleged that Painter submitted Dahlstrand’s name to the Pacific Coast Architecture Database to bolster his claim that he deserved the title. Phillips essentially echoed what Lombardo said earlier when Lombardo claimed that Painter “had gone to great lengths” to include Dahlstrand in the database.
A message left for Painter in his Santa Rosa office was not immediately returned Wednesday. The painter was not hired directly by the county; instead, she was hired by the company the county contracted with to do the environmental impact report.
Supervisor Mary Adams, where the district is located, supported the historic designation. She said she’s been involved in the process since 2019 and that Stanley’s vision is “not in tune with the environment around it.” She went on to say that Stanley had been very contradictory and had made his existing tenants miserable.
“He gets himself into financial trouble,” Adams said.
The earlier allegation against Painter sparked a contentious speech between Adams, Phillips and supervisor Luis Alejo, who said he too was not convinced that Dahlstrand was a master architect and that he had not “achieved that higher level of rigor.
When Alejo raised possible ethical issues with Painter’s analysis, Adams spoke above him, saying it was a time in the meeting where supervisors should ask questions, not do. statements. Later, Alejo said he was “disrespected” by Adams.
In the end, Phillips made a motion not to designate the center as a historic resource and won the support of Alejo and Lopez. Adams and supervisor Wendy Root Askew recorded the two minority votes.