In a move hailed by neighborhood preservationists, a doctor’s request to convert a Monte Vista Historic District duplex into an assisted-living domicile was rejected by the city’s Board of Adjustment.
Dr. Grant Garbo envisioned turning the 1950s structure at 525/527 E. Huisache Ave. into a physician-owned/operated home, complete with a front porch and rear addition.
The physician, a resident of the neighborhood, said difficulty finding a nearby, adequate dwelling to care for his ailing father gave him the idea. His most recent proposal called for a custodial-care residence with two employees and space for up to 10 inhabitants.
“There’s a massive shortage of assisted-living residencies (in District 1),” he told the board.
The city’s Historic and Design Review Commission granted the project conceptual approval with several stipulations in February 2018. The Board of Adjustment issued its denial July 1.
Garbo and associates downsized the plan a few times after receiving feedback from city departments, HDRC and its Design Review Committee.
“I wanted a property that I could repurpose while being responsible,” Garbo said.
The physician also heard plenty from several Monte Vista residents who worried that, despite the plan modifications, the proposed building footprint was still too big.
Neighbors also had issues with parking, saying the plan didn’t preserve enough green space, and it seemed more of a commercial design out of sync with its surroundings.
Previous to the July board meeting, municipal officials said Garbo and his team hadn’t met a few of the conditions required by the HDRC.
HDRC denied the plan final approval earlier this year, as city staff said Garbo’s proposed design still had many problems, and that the duplex on East Huisache was a structure contributing to the neighborhood’s historical aesthetics.
Garbo set out to appeal HDRC’s ruling to the adjustment board. He told the panel at the July meeting he had gone as far as he could to assemble a financially viable plan favorable to the city and neighbors. He also disputed the city’s description of the duplex as a contributing structure in a historic district.
The physician also took issue with neighbors’ worries, claiming some held a misinformed view of the proposed use of the building, and many others didn’t focus enough on the envisioned architectural design.
“These are residents,” Garbo said of prospective inhabitants of such an assisted-living house. “It’s a home, not a facility.”
Garbo said several neighborhood homeowners had “weaponized HDRC’s decision,” and gone to great lengths to organize opposition.
In recent months, local discussions about the plan became tense. Garbo said some criticism amounted to “terrible treatment of the elderly,” or potential residents.
A handful of those neighbors critical of the plan spoke at the BOA meeting.
“This application has been considered and reconsidered by the HDRC several times over the last two years,” Patricia Eisenhauer told the board. “The commission has determined that the intended use and design are not compatible with the existing neighborhood, environment and context.”
Eisenhauer said while Garbo made compromises, there still wouldn’t be enough space on Huisache to support any emergency vehicles capable of providing service, if assistance was needed.
Paul Kinnison Jr., chairman of the Monte Vista Historical Association’s Architectural Review Committee, said the size of Garbo’s proposed structural addition and the required amount of hardscape, such as paved areas, were too large for the property, and didn’t meet the city’s historic district guidelines.
Former MVHA President Paula Bondurant objected to Garbo’s claims of prejudice toward the elderly.
“Monte Vista does not indulge in that kind of discrimination,” she added.
A few Garbo backers voiced how changes to the East Huisache address would improve the community.
Some BOA members felt city staff may have misinterpreted municipal code by recommending denial of Garbo’s proposal, and the doctor made worthy efforts to meet city guidelines.
Yet, Garbo couldn’t convince the board; his appeal was denied 8-1.
The panel did cast a 5-4 decision to support his request for a variance on the permitted number of parking spaces for the duplex, but because no board supermajority voted either way, the motion died.
“Good luck in whatever you do,” board Chairman Roger Martinez told Garbo afterward.