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June 21, 2024

San Juan building repairs draw scrutiny, legal action

Renovations to two buildings in San Juan Bautista have drawn ire among top officials, but the city manager doesn’t believe they can do much about one of them due to previous approvals.

The properties are the historic La Casa Rosa building at 107 Third St. and a multi-story structure at 10 Franklin St.

La Casa Rosa is the pink building, erected in 1870, next to Jardines de San Juan restaurant on historic Third Street in the Mission City. The city is claiming owners partially demolished the back portion of the property without a proper permit and that it is out of code compliance, City Manager Michaele LaForge said.

Owners started the process of pursuing a permit, but never went through with it, LaForge said.

San Juan Bautista has declared the property a nuisance, while the city is going through a public hearing cycle for abatement and plans to formalize the process later this month.

“Immediately after that, the city will remove and or set aside that balcony or shore it up,” LaForge said regarding the front of the building.

The city manager said issues with La Casa Rosa started in 2016. That’s when Greg and Christin Burda purchased the property.  

Still, the city in 2017 gave a site and design approval for a restaurant and bar there on the first floor with a two bedroom/two bathroom residential unit on the second floor, according to approvals listed on the city website.

Declaring it a nuisance earlier this year, however, the city ended up closing off a portion of the sidewalk on Third Street in front of La Casa Rosa.

“We want to open up that sidewalk as soon as possible,” LaForge said.

She said the best route is to remove the balcony or preserve it for a future owner to rebuild in a safe manner.

“That’s likely the path we’ll take,” LaForge said.

There is concern that because the owner removed some walls inside the building, it may not be properly supported, she said.

“Once we get through this abatement or this nuisance property notification period, it’ll enable us to get on the property and do a very thorough assessment,” LaForge said. “We don’t have legal authority to be in that building or on that property. All of our information has come from looking from outside the building.”

But the city did make observations inside the building. LaForge said the realtor and a potential buyer allowed the city to take body cam footage while touring the inside of the site.

“That’s how we got alarmed to that building, how terrible it was inside,” LaForge said. “We have all that on videotape.”

While the La Casa Rosa is listed for sale at $400,000, LaForge estimated it would require about $500,000 in repairs.

The Burdas have given no indication they plan to fix the building, and Mayor Cesar Flores said the city expects to put a lien on the property for the next owner to ensure renovations are done appropriately.

“We need to maintain the historical integrity of our town,” Flores said. “That definitely is part of the history of our town.”

The property on Franklin Street, meanwhile, is right next to the San Juan Bautista State Historic Park and near Old Mission San Juan Bautista. While the current city management has been quietly uncomfortable to this point with the previously approved project, the issue cropped up with the city council in recent months when a representative for the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band questioned whether there may be Native American remains on the site.

LaForge confirmed there were no bones found on the property.

“Nothing’s been provided to the city that there’s any evidence of human remains there,” she said. “There’s been a geological survey, which was done in that area, which I have a copy of, that there was no evidence of human remains.”

She said an archeological report showed it’s clear Native Americans at one point used that area for living arrangements where there may have been food and animal bone remnants.

The tribal leader also claimed the 10 Franklin St. building had been renovated illegally. Although LaForge acknowledged a distaste for the multi-story structure, she did not see any improper activity with the building owned by developer Andrew Neubauer.

She said a city review of the renovation showed previous San Juan officials issued Neubauer a remodel/rebuild permit over the counter. The site previously had an old barn wall standing, so prior city management used that justification for the remodel permit. The owner received his permit in 2010, she said, and the project isn’t yet completed.

“We found out that Neubauer operated within all the parameters of the law,” she said.

Because he received a permit over the counter as he did, it came with fewer restrictions. He didn’t have to go before the planning commission or do an environmental study, she said.

And as long as the owner is gradually making some renovations, the city can’t do much to force his hand, she confirmed.