WALNUT CREEK -- In what may be a last-ditch effort, some Rossmoor residents are trying to delay the construction of a new events center there by getting a nearby clubhouse placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
But with the city poised to issue building permits for the center within the next few weeks, residents' actions to delay work on the new center -- long divisive within the Rossmoor community -- may be a long shot.
A group known as Save Our Stanley is trying to get the Stanley Dollar Clubhouse and its grounds placed on the national historic register.
The new events center's parking lot would be built on the front lawn of the Dollar clubhouse. Group members say getting the clubhouse and its grounds designated as historic could force city leaders to at least delay construction of the $12 million events center.
"It is a historic site," said Bob Dickson, a member and former president of the Save Our Stanley group. "And the city is now in a position to hold off the events center."
That point is debatable, according to city leaders. City Manager Ken Nordhoff and Mayor Bob Simmons said this week they have no plans to take any action to hold up the permitting process.
The city approved
The event center's plans do not call for any change to the Dollar Clubhouse itself.
But Dickson says the city should hold off nonetheless. The executive board of the Contra Costa County Historical Society seems to agree, and sent a letter to the city asking that any work on the grounds be stopped until the historic issue is settled. The house has been on the county's historic resources inventory since 1976.
Some feel this matter has already been settled. A report commissioned by Rossmoor's governing board and used as evidence in city approvals for the project concluded that the clubhouse is neither historic nor eligible for the National Register.
But Dickson points to documents which show the blue and white house, built as a vacation home by shipping magnate R. Stanley Dollar in the 1930s, was used for conventions of the Young Republicans. President Richard Nixon, former governors, senators and secretaries of state are listed to have stayed in or visited the house.
Historian Jay Correia, who manages the register for the state, said the building and grounds appear "eligible for the National Historic Register." He would have "confidence" taking the nomination to the state commission which makes those decisions, he said.
But that process takes months. The commission only meets quarterly and the application process is extensive, Correia said.
Concerned Rossmoor residents say they don't have that kind of time. "Our problem is the clock is ticking like crazy," Dickson said.
Rossmoor CEO Warren Salmons says placing the clubhouse on the register has no bearing on the events center project moving forward.
Correia acknowledges that, but believes the city could reconsider its 2009 approval and question the historical document used to support that.
While some cities have historic preservation ordinances that could help guide this type of issue, Walnut Creek dropped its plans for such an ordinance years ago.
The Save Our Stanley group understands the historic register effort may take too long, but its leaders say they are trying to buy time to get a new majority on the Rossmoor board.
Others, such as Rossmoor historian John Nutley, call the group's whole effort "a waste of time."
In a letter to city administrators and the city council, Save Our Stanley attorney Rachel Mansfield-Howlett called the city's approval of the project into question, citing various issues. There should have been a full environmental impact report done because the county lists the Dollar house as historically significant, she wrote. But in a response letter, City Attorney Bryan Wenter disputes those claims, and ultimately concludes that the city has done nothing wrong and the project can move forward. On Monday, Wenter said the city has no further discretion over the project because it's at an administrative stage.
"We consider it final," he said. "The city council cannot have discretionary authority over this at this time."