The long-vacated – and debated – Halsey House will undergo a more than $40,000 consultants’ review following action last week by the Los Altos City Council.
The council at its May 25 meeting approved a staff recommendation to engage three consulting firms that could offer the best guidance on what to do with the historical structure in the Redwood Grove preserve on University Avenue. The allocation involves appropriating $40,480 in park in-lieu funds for a feasibility study involving Architectural Resource Group for $18,890, a contract with David J. Powers & Associates for $8,340 and another contract with Page & Turnbull for $13,250.
The goal is finding answers to questions council members posed at their March 23 meeting as they consider four options for the dilapidated Halsey House: full rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of the building; full demolition of the building; partial demolition/major alteration; and mothballing the building, meaning basic upkeep with an eye on use in the future.
Specific information the council seeks includes factors triggering a “delisting process” from Halsey House’s historical status; the process for pursuing demolition; the step-by-step process for each of the four options; legal obligations/risks for each option; impact on Redwood Grove with each option; California Environmental Quality Act requirements and Americans with Disabilities Act access costs for each option.
Next step in the process
The decaying 1920s-era Halsey House, once home to an early-Los Altos family and more recently home to city-sponsored nature programs, has been out of commission since 2008. The structure has been the subject of ongoing vigorous debate, with some lobbying for restoration of the building and the return of nature programs, and others seeking demolition of a building they see as beyond repair.
That debate was especially prominent at the city’s Feb. 10 Parks and Recreation Commission meeting, when two commissioners offered separate presentations advocating for and against preservation.
Purchased by the city in 1974, the house was deemed a local historical resource in 1981 by the city council. Emma Halsey was credited with planting the redwoods that would come to define the 6-plus-acre preserve.
Architectural Resource Group will provide a historical structure report on Halsey House. David J. Powers and Associates will respond to the council’s CEQA-related questions. Page & Turnbull will prepare a historical resource evaluation.
The city will schedule a council study session after receiving the requested information from the consultants. Dave Brees, special projects manager, told the council it would take eight to 10 weeks for the consultants to finish their work.
“This is the next step in the process,” Brees said. “We’re trying to get this project moving and keep it moving from where it’s been stalled in the past, and there hasn’t been an opportunity to have a direction given.”
“I would be remiss if I didn’t point out to the council the irony that, by spending an additional $40,000 on paper studies, ... the council will have spent more money on paper studies than on work to stabilize the building and make the necessary repairs,” said former Planning Commissioner Jon Baer.