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Malibu Planning Commission - Planned Point Dume home caught in cross fire

Lauren Coughlin, Editor
10:07 am PDT August 8, 2017

The concept of neighborhood character continued to muddy the waters Monday, Aug. 7, as the Malibu Planning Commission considered plans for a 7,314-square-foot, two-story single-family home on Portshead Road in Point Dume.

Driving the commission’s uncertainty was the Malibu City Council’s recent pushback on a proposed 5,379-square-foot, two-story home at 28405 Via Acero St. — a project that the Planning Commission had approved in February. The council first reviewed the Via Acero project May 22 and spent time mulling neighborhood character before ultimately directing the applicant to revise its plans to come closer to the roughly 4,000 square foot average of the neighborhood. The applicant complied, bringing back a 4,016-square-foot home, which was approved.

With the City Council scheduled to formally discuss neighborhood character at its Aug. 28 meeting, the Portshead Road project was cloaked in uncertainty.

Chairman Mikke Pierson said the Planning Commission was in a tough spot and noted that the rules are not always as clear as they would like for them to be.

“It’s confusing and we want to do a good job all the way around,” he said. “It is a large home, and with what City Council did it’s very confusing without further direction.”

Planning Director Bonnie Blue said the City’s current code does not indicate that neighborhood character is based on the average size of square footage in a given neighborhood. Rather, for these plans, staff was primarily focused on the project’s height and placement on the lot. The home is to be set back 65 feet from the road, and includes portions that are 24 feet in height which are on a lower elevation —both of which reduce the home’s visual impact from the road.  

“Based on the project plans and staff’s site visit, it was determined that the proposed new single-family residence is not likely to obstruct primary views of neighboring residences or have a visual impact from public scenic areas, and would not adversely affect neighborhood character,” an agenda supplement stated.

The home is also proposed to include a 647-square-foot pool house as well as an attached 921-square-foot, three-car garage.

Staff acknowledged that the proposed home was larger than surrounding homes in Point Dume — the largest of which was a one-story, 5,091-square-foot home — but added that it was also on a larger lot. 

A staff report noted that “the majority of the surrounding residences are also two stories, and many are set closer to the street than the subject project.”

“As of right now, we played by the rules,” said property owner Christopher Murphy, who has owned the currently vacant lot since March 2016.

Malibu resident Pamela Ulich, who lives down the street from the site, spoke in support of the project and noted that she started an online petition on Change.org to support it. Ulich said she felt it was a “beautiful,” “tasteful” home.

“Maybe we might not like the exact square footage, but they have over 2.5 acres,” she added.

Others were not so keen.Malibu resident Beatrix Zilinskas, who appealed the aforementioned Via Acero project, agreed that the proposed Portshead Road home was beautiful, but said the large scale of the project would have an adverse impact on the neighborhood.

“Developers and the planning department interpreting the rules the way they do are changing Malibu,” Zilinskas said. “It’s kind of like a battle for the soul of Malibu.”

Ultimately, Murphy and his architect, Doug Burdge, opted to continue the project’s hearing to the Planning Commission’s Sept. 5 meeting in hopes that the council’s upcoming discussion will offer a clear path forward. 

And while the commission voted 5-0 in support of continuation, some were not so sure the council’s direction would be so immediate. Commissioner Jeffrey Jennings reminded his fellow commissioners that “code change doesn’t happen overnight.”

“If you’re looking for clarity, you ain’t going to get it,” he remarked. 

Blue agreed.

“It may not be as definitive as everyone hopes,” she said.