A pair of century-old sycamore trees in the Wilmont neighborhood may have its landmark status revoked Tuesday pending an appeal before the City Council.
The tall, intertwined trees were landmarked one year ago despite protest from the family who owns the property. The family filed an appeal and City Council will vote on the status Tuesday. City of Santa Monica staff have recommended granting the appeal because the trees, while antique by local standards, are similar to others in the area and historically unimportant.
Iradj and Lesley Shahriary are longtime Santa Monica residents who bought the almost 100-year old house at 1122 California Ave. in December 2017 for $1.8 million. John C. Smith, a board member of the Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition, had already filed applications to landmark the trees when they bought it.
The developer the Shahriarys bought the house from said it should be torn down and their appeal indicates that they want to build more housing on the lot.
“This property is situated in a multi-family zoning district. There is a statewide housing crisis,” they wrote in their appeal. “This landmark designation will likely impede the production of additional needed housing.”
The Landmarks Commission voted 4-2 last May that the trees met two criteria to become a landmark, against the recommendation of its staff. One criterion requires the trees to have aesthetic, artistic or noteworthy interest or value, and the other states they must have a unique location, singular physical characteristic or is an established and familiar visual feature of a neighborhood, community or the city.
The Shahriarys said that only one other of the more than 120 landmarks in the city, a eucalyptus cornuta tree at 1407 Hill St., was granted special status based on those two criteria.
“The tree at 1407 Hill St. is a rare specimen and is the largest tree in the area and is clearly distinguishable from the tree at 1122 California Ave.,” they wrote.
The sycamore trees, however, stand among several notable trees on the block and 21 sycamores in the neighborhood, they said.
Their appeal cites former Landmarks Commission Chair Laura O’Neill, who voted to landmark the trees but expressed doubts that they merited special designation.
“I’m trying to look for an actual fact or something to hang the weight of the application on it. I have trouble finding it, personally,” O’Neill said last May. “This is a great example of why we need to work on our (landmarks ordinance). It should not be this difficult to make determinations.”
Smith said he believes the commission made a fair decision based on local law.
“The Landmarks Commission debated this and really dissected this issue and they came to the same conclusions we did: that the tree deserved landmark status based on criteria established years ago by the City,” he said.
City Council will meet Tuesday at City Hall, 1685 Main St.