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Supersize Just Got Smaller

By Lester Tobias

In a classic, Malibu style confrontation between property rights and “keep Malibu, Malibu”, the city council, led by “Team Malibu” (Peak, Wagner, Mullen) voted to resuscitate a long dormant project review standard known as “Neighborhood Character” for all residential applications seeking a Site Plan Review and/or a Minor Modification. Site Plan Reviews are required for all structures over 18 feet tall.

This issue of Neighborhood Character, which could have extremely far reaching implications for land development in the city, came to the fore due to the mutually exclusive conditions of a difficult site, a design solution that seemed to lack a certain sensitivity to that site, and a determined neighbor.

The project in question is a single family residence in Ramirez Canyon, located on Via Acero where it abuts Kanan Dume Road (a designated scenic high- way). It was clear from the staff presentation recommending denial of the appeal and upholding the 5-0 Planning Commission approval of the project that the submittal had been run through the ringer, suffering several revisions prior to receiving a staff recommendation of approval. By the time it got to the council, it had been reduced from about 8,000 square feet to about 6,500 square feet. The appealing neighbor raised serious questions about the accuracy of all of the submitted area calculations, so this article uses approximate square footages for purposes of analysis. By the end of the discussion, the coun- cil, emphatically led by Mayor Peak, told the project owner to come back with a house no larger than 4,500 square feet, including the garage.

By the end of the discussion, the council, emphatically led by Mayor Peak, told the project owner to come back with a house no larger than 4,500 square feet, including the garage.

Although issues of scenic views, bad geology, and solar access were all part of a clearly articulated presentation by the appellant, the argument that the house was (still) too big for the neighborhood is what led to the rather shocking decision by the council to determine a project’s allowable size in an ad-hoc fashion, essentially developing zoning code on the fly. The planning staff unsuccessfully justified the use of Floor Area Ratio (only applied to commercial projects) in reaching their conclusion that the residential project was indeed within the size spectrum of the other homes in the direct vicinity.

Assuming that this action holds, several cascading effects could easily occur. The first is that the planning staff will now have to explain what neigh- borhood character means, and develop a set of metrics that will allow applicants to pre determine the allowable size of their house. That will take a long time. The second is that sections of town will be blocked from large home construction. Those areas will most likely see a drop in their home values as a consequence of this constraint, but residents who relish the old school qualities of their neighborhoods, and aren’t looking for windfall increases in equity will perhaps be happy. The third is that a new path for obstruction of any residential development has most likely appeared. It will be interesting to see how many more projects are delayed on this issue of “Neighborhood Character”.

Oh. There’s also the possibility of a lawsuit, but that never happens.

Cece Woods

The Current Report Editor in Chief Cece Woods started The Local Malibu, an activism based platform in 2014. The publication was instrumental in the success of pro-preservation ballot measures and seating five top vote-getters in the Malibu City Council elections.

During the summer of 2018, Woods exposed the two-year law enforcement cover-up in the Malibu Creek State Park Shootings, and a few short months later provided the most comprehensive local news coverage during the Woolsey Fire attracting over 1 million hits across her social media platforms. Woods also founded Malibu based 90265 Magazine and Cali Mag devoted to the authentic southern California lifestyle.

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