You are here

Malibu Planning Commission: Confusion on neighborhood character lingers, makes an impact

Lauren Coughlin, Editor
9:46 am PDT September 8, 2017

The hot-button issue of neighborhood character continued to loom Tuesday, Sept. 5, as the Malibu Planning Commission struggled to agree on City Council direction when it comes to neighborhood character.

Commissioner Chris Marx sought to continue one item — an application that allowed for the demolition of a current home and construction of a new, one-story home at 6728 and 6730 Wildlife Road — saying that the staff report did not contain information on neighborhood character. The motion to continue the item failed 2-2, with only Commissioner Steve Uhring backing Marx’s motion and Commissioner John Mazza recused, and staff heard the item. Commissioners ultimately voted 3-1, with Mazza recused and Marx voting no, to approve the item. Discussion of neighborhood character also impacted another item at 6701 Portshead Road, which had been recommended for approval by staff.

Commissioners voted 3-2 to deny the project’s Coastal Development Permit, saying it failed to comply with two findings: Finding 2 “that the project does not adversely affect the neighborhood character” and Finding 5 “that the project is consistent with the City’s General Plan and Local Coastal Program.”

Commissioner Jeffrey Jennings and Chairman Mikke Pierson did not vote in favor of the motion to deny. 

The project in question was a two-story, 7,314-square-foot home in the Point Dume neighborhood.

Uhring reasoned that he felt the project was a “textbook definition of mansionization.” 

“How big would this house have to be to affect neighborhood character?” Uhring asked.

Planning Director Bonnie Blue noted that the development standards simply require that plans are less than a project’s maximum total development square footage, which is based on lot size. 

“I would say that there’s more to neighborhood character than just the size of the house,” Blue added.

She noted that staff looks for compliance with height and setback requirements as they relate to visual impact.

Things were not as black and white for commissioners, who were still keeping in mind the City Council’s recent motion to downsize plans for a home at 28405 Via Acero Street.

Marx worried that projects were being studied with a “sledgehammer instead of a scalpel,” and said he felt the impact on staff time to analyze the homes case-by-case would be lesser than the impact that blanket approval could have on future neighbors of projects. 

“This has been keeping us up at night a lot, and I have put a great deal of thought into this, too,” Pierson said. 

Pierson added that he worried about mansionization and does not personally care for large homes, but that was just his personal opinion and not one he was able to consider as a commissioner.

“I don’t have a perfect answer; I’m not going to pretend I do,” he said. “I do believe that our code needs to be defined better. ... I was hoping there would be more headway at the last [City Council] meeting.”

Plus, he added, there were many neighbors of the property in question who stated they did not have a problem with the project. 

Jennings, who noted that he served on the general plan taskforce, said that the council at the time was mindful of the fact that there was no single set of standards that could apply to every neighborhood in Malibu. What helped to address that discrepancy, he said, was the portion of a project that generates site plan review.

“There has never been a correlation between overall project size and that analysis,” he said. “That is brand new.”

Jennings also said he felt it was unfair to deny projects in the pipeline based on something that was not currently on the books. 

“In order to avoid being just brutally unfair to the people who are in the pipeline ... maybe if we’re going to change the rules, we oughta give some notice about changing the rules,” Jennings said.