City Planners Conduct Zoning Interviews with Stakeholders
• Attempt to Obtain Public Input From Developers, Architects and Malibu Residents
BY BILL KOENEKER
The Malibu planning department undertook a daylong series of what they called interviews on Tuesday while they discussed updating and streamlining Malibu's zoning code.
Planning Director Joyce Boyzlinski-Parker, planner Joseph Smith and consultant Lisa Wise got an earful as they sought comments from various stakeholders, who were asked to offer insights on the strengths and weaknesses of the city's municipal zoning code.
Wise, who had been hired to conduct the interviews, and the planners started with an overflow room of architects, engineers and other related purveyors of the development community, and ended the day with a small gathering of residents, business owners and others by the end of the day.
Smith said there were really no rules about what folks could suggest, but recommended speakers avoid the "global issues" of planning and stick to the zoning code.
Smith insisted planners do not intend to rewrite the code, but "make [the document] better" by condensing it, offering graphics and updating the code with the new laws enacted since the code was written in 1993 and making it consistent with the Local Coastal Program policies.
Some architects had a laundry list of recommendations such as Lester Tobias, who talked about how so many houses were built before cityhood and offer challenges when remodeling, including setbacks that no longer meet the current rules.
The discussion on remodels also included how because of the 50-percent rule so many of those projects then require a coastal permit adding more woes to homebuilders because the LCP requires updates.
Another complaint focused on story poles. Planners were told that story poles should only be required when the height of the house is 18 feet or more. The poles create a lot of problems for builders, who said the added expense is unnecessary when there is 18 feet by right. The story poles should only be required when there is a question of view blockage, according to land use consultant Don Schmitz
Smith said that issue was on the list. "It is not codified. Should it be codified?" he asked.
Tobias also talked about how there used to be a back and forth between the architects and the planning staff. "That stopped," he said, and then cited the example of how there was a better relationship between architects and then Planning Director Craig Ewing. "It would be really nice to have more of a dialogue."
Other issues discussed included, grading, parking, open space and landscaping.
At the business session, Realtor Paul Grisanti talked about how the zoning code map does not reflect what is actually in the code. "Just don't wait five years to tell them no," he said.
Dave Anawalt, who recently opened up a hardware store in Malibu, said sometimes the allowable uses are not necessarily what the community wants. "The sale of lumber is not an allowable use for visitor-serving commercial," he noted, despite the community's yearning for such a use for years.
Wise said that is something the planners will be looking at. "I hate to say it is a balancing act," she said, but explained such language comes from the Local Coastal Program.
Grisanti interjected, "That is because the LCP was not written by the city and does not address the residents' needs."
That led Smith into an explanation of how planners will handle the two documents-the Malibu municipal code and the LCP. "Phase one is the zoning. The two documents have a lot of redundancy. If we change uses then that must be approved by the California Coastal Commission," he said. "Phase one, we will work on the draft MMC. Phase two will probably take another year," he added.
Malibu Chamber of Commerce head Rebekah Evans said the Conditional Use Permit is what makes business owners shudder. "They don't even want to talk about it. It is too time consuming. You should talk to business owners about it," she said.
Realtor Susan Monus said the most frequently heard complaint she gets from clients is the timeline. "Can we address the response time? There is something wrong with the timeline. I am always asked, 'How long will it take me?' We have no answers," she said.
Hans Laetz said he was concerned about Pacific Coast Highway safety and pointed out how different uses can impact parking and traffic circulation. "That needs to be considered," he said.
Planning Commissioner John Mazza said it is a matter of diversification.
Smith noted many of the issues discussed by business owners, architects, engineers and others "keep coming round and around" and said much of what would be in the update would "not be anything substantial."
A short time later, the next session was scheduled for residents, homeowners and community groups.
Lucille Keller was the first to speak and said she was surprised to read the characterization of the zone code. "It was not thrown together in bits and pieces. It took almost two years," she said, adding there were many experts and planners on the panel. "We were fighting over commas," she added. "It is not without expertise."
She said in 1995, there was an attempt to redo the zoning code. After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and five years, the council at the time "dumped the whole thing."
Mazza said the community has no desire to change much of anything from the mission statement and General Plan.
"There is no desire to have three-story houses. There is no desire to get a 15,000-square-foot house. The real problem is not planning, but permitting," he said. "There is a lack of clarity on some definitions. The staff has done a good job. Variances should be rare."
"That is some of the message we have been hearing," said the planning director. "Come up with a code that is clear. It should not take us years to get through it."
As the discussion kept unfolding, Keller began to sum up what residents seemed to be saying to planners. "We do not want the requirements reduced. People do not have an inalienable right to develop any project they want," she said.
Former planning commissioner Jo Ruggles said too often the policies have changed and the original rules are not followed.
Activist Patt Healy said, "[Whenever the zoning code changes], we see a reduction of restrictions."
Mazza agreed. "Everytime something has been changed. It is a 100-percent to make it easier. That is the reason everybody is nervous. Every time things change, it gets bigger," he said.
Others talked about how many folks are disenchanted with the changes in commercial growth and how it has become a glitzy, Beverly Hills ambience rather than the rural.
"I am personally here because I am concerned about the character of Malibu. My biggest concern is commercial development. It is the antithesis of rural," one homeowners said.
Planners indicate updating the municipal code is currently underway. Phase 2, including an update to the LCP local implementation plan, will commence once an administrative draft of the municipal code is completed. It is anticipated no later than 2012.
The objectives of phase one include, according to planners, streamlining language to avoid redundancy, reformatting, organizing and incorporating illustrative graphics and tables, revising development standards language so that it is clear, concise and understandable, updating uses and definitions, updating administered processing and provisions, applying smart growth and sustainable principles and ensuring compliance with state law.
In a letter sent to media outlets, Planning Director Joyce Parker-Bozylinski noted it is important to ensure that the regulations put into place when Malibu achieved cityhood are still meeting the same goals laid out by the community in the General Plan and LCP.
"These goals include the protection and preservation of the city's unique land and marine environment, natural and rural setting, and coastal resources. The regulations that protect these resources are located within the city's zoning code—a document written in 1993, to which minimal changes have been made since its adoption nearly two decades ago," she wrote.
The planning director noted that it is important to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the zoning code in order to understand how effective the document has been and how its regulations are shaping the image of the city. An effective, up-to-date and well-written zoning code is required. The city council allocated initial funding to begin a comprehensive update to the code, which she described as a "significant undertaking that will benefit the community for years to come, but a task that strikes at the core of our most challenging issues."
The planning director said to launch the project forward the city will conduct the group stakeholder interviews.
"The city welcomes public comments and suggestions on this endeavor and looks forward to hearing the public's thoughts on the zoning code's strengths and weaknesses in preserving the small town community envisioned in the General Plan and LCP," Parker-Bozylinski added.