|The Santa Cruz SentinelFebruary 19, 2005
Davenport’s battered barn to stay just that –
Sierra Club court victory ends plan for wine and cheese shop
By Genevieve Bookwalter
DAVENPORT — David Luers had a dream: Buy the dilapidated barn off Highway 1, demolish it and build a wine and cheese shop he’d run with his wife.
Santa Cruz County officials approved the plan, as did the state Coastal Commission.
But nine years after buying the abandoned structure at Highway 1, Old Coast Road and Davenport Avenue, Luers is living in Idaho, where he’s running a gift shop and wondering how he can unload the property.
Earlier this month, a San Francisco Superior Court judge agreed with Sierra Club arguments that Luers’ plans for a 6,000-square-foot building encroached on environmentally sensitive San Vicente Creek — home to protected coho salmon, steelhead trout and red-legged frogs.
The ruling came after the county and state approved the project.
“The commissioners were so off base,” said Susan Young of the Sierra Club’s Santa Cruz County group and a Davenport resident. The Coastal Commission was listed as a defendant in the case.
Other Sierra Club members and residents of the old whaling town were disappointed to see the plans fall through.
“We feel very sad about it,” said Marcia McDougal, who, with her husband Bruce, has owned the Davenport Cash Store next door to the barn for 28 years. She also belongs to the environmental group.
“We viewed it as an addition to Davenport to help restore the wonderful town that it has been and almost is.”
Originally slated as a commercial/residential establishment with two apartments, the building was to sit in a slight depression on the property and rise two stories above Highway 1. Luers, who paid $185,000 for the barn, envisioned running a wine and cheese shop with his wife and living in one of the upstairs apartments, he said.
But some neighbors argued the development was too much for the town, and others said it was too close to the creek.
After much debate and some close votes, the plans were OK’d by the county Planning Department and the Coastal Commission. It was headed for construction when the Sierra Club filed suit 18 months ago.
“We get sued a lot because we’re the last stop,” said Diane Landry, Coastal Commission district manager. “You either get sued for approving the project or you get sued for denying it.”
Rita Dalessio, chairwoman of the Sierra Club’s Ventana Chapter, said her group did the right thing.
“The No. 1 thing that was wrong with it was it was so close to San Vicente Creek,” Dalessio said. “We felt very passionate about it — this was a very important suit to us.”
Luers said he’s not going to submit another set of plans.
“I’m certainly going to lose the property,” Luers said. “I hope somebody else will take it on.”
Real estate broker Steve Noren of Thunderbird Real Estate in Capitola said he’s heard from a few interested buyers. Luers hopes to recoup about $450,000 he owes for the property and costs related to the planned development, Noren said. Otherwise, Noren said, Luers might have to declare bankruptcy.
In the meantime, the barn will stand.
Noren said he worries the recent history of the site might scare off potential buyers.
“Whoever buys this has to have a lot of courage, a lot of time and a lot of money,” Noren said.
Contact Genevieve Bookwalter at firstname.lastname@example.org.