On the west side of Balboa Park, there is an old house with peeling green paint that residents of the area say has cursed their neighborhood.
A City Council decision Monday to allow the house--a historical landmark--to be used for a law office marks the demise of their residential neighborhood, they said.
The 6-3 council vote to grant a conditional use permit for law offices in the White-Seifert House on Redwood Street at 2nd Avenue ends a two-year dispute. Neighbors said the commercial use of the house would cause the deterioration of their neighborhood, but criminal defense attorneys Howard Frank and Joseph Milchen contend that establishing offices there would preserve the building as a historical site.
Mayor Roger Hedgecock, who supported the decision, said there were no other alternatives that would preserve the quiet quality of the residential area.
"People's uses of these houses are changing," Hedgecock said. "This change should be welcomed. Not many people can afford these houses as homes, and I have seen too many old neighborhoods violated by apartments and the demolition of old homes.
"My concern is the preservation of this neighborhood."
But the approximately 60 neighbors who attended the meeting and had hired an attorney to plead their case said that they felt betrayed.
Harold Hoersch, who organized the fight against the law firm, said the decision was a violation of the rights of the property owners nearby.
James R. Milliken, the residents' attorney, said the decision was political.
"There is no logical basis for the decision," Milliken said. "I am not sure that they (the neighbors) can afford to fight City Hall. What is involved is politics."
The hearing, the third before the council since last April, was ordered by Superior Court Judge Douglas R. Woodworth in January after a lawsuit was filed by the residents, organized as the Second Avenue Preservation Society.
A previous council decision to allow the law firm to occupy the old house was reached without considering the views of property owners nearby, the residents claimed.
Since the dispute began, owner Howard Frank has said that he has tried to find a family interested in buying the two-story, 3,272-square-foot mansion. But the only interested parties have been developers who want to "tear it down and put up two new homes," he said.
Frank said he and his partner had purchased the house, designed by famed architects Irving Gill and Will S. Hebbard, in 1983 with the intention of converting it into an office to preserve it as a historical site.
Built in 1898 for Ernest White, a Spreckels Theater executive, the 15-room house, registered by the San Diego Historic Site Board, was purchased for $275,000, Frank said. It is currently rented to two families.
Joseph Milchen said that he is "ecstatic" at the prospect of moving his firm into its new home in late October.
The permit approved by the council will allow the firm to operate with six attorneys and four full-time staff members. Eleven parking spaces will be added to the 100-foot by 100-foot lot.
Milchen said several interior walls will be removed to create larger offices, but nothing of historical significance will be touched.
"As time passes, the neighbors will realize that their fears will not come to fruition," Milchen said. "Parking will not be a problem, and I cannot imagine that one of our clients will pose a danger to the neighborhood.
"We will try to be good neighbors."