Rancho Palos Verdes City Council
   

MEMORANDUM

TO:HONORABLE MAYOR AND MEMBERS OF THE CITY COUNCIL AND CHAIRMAN AND MEMBERS OF THE PLANNING COMMISSION

FROM:DIRECTOR OF PLANNING, BUILDING AND CODE ENFORCEMENT

DATE:FEBRUARY 8, 2003

SUBJECT:PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO THE CITY’S NEIGHBORHOOD COMPATIBILITY PROCESS

Staff Coordinator: Ara Michael Mihranian, Senior Planner

RECOMMENDATION:

Staff recommends that the City Council and the Planning Commission 1) Review the proposed amendments to the Neighborhood Compatibility requirements; 2) Review the proposed Neighborhood Compatibility Handbook; and 3) If the new criteria and process is acceptable to the City Council, direct Staff to initiate amendments to the existing Guidelines and Development Code implementing the revised Neighborhood Compatibility process.

BACKGROUND:

On October 2, 2001, the City Council, at the request of Councilman McTaggart, considered whether an amendment to the City’s Neighborhood Compatibility requirement is warranted. At the time, Councilman McTaggart expressed a concern that the existing Neighborhood Compatibility triggers might need to be expanded to ensure that more residential projects are eventually constructed in a manner that is compatible with the immediate neighborhood. At that meeting, the Council agreed to continue its discussion on this matter and directed Staff to obtain information from neighboring cities on their Neighborhood Compatibility policies and procedures (see attached October 2, 2001 minutes).

On December 4, 2001, Staff presented the City Council with its findings on Neighborhood Compatibility, specifically as it pertains to the neighboring cities. Based on this information, the Council created a Steering Committee to review the City’s current Neighborhood Compatibility requirements and create a publication that conveys the process and procedures to the general public. The Council decided that the Committee, titled as the Neighborhood Compatibility Steering Committee, would be comprised of two Council Members, two Planning Commissioners, five community members, and Staff. At the meeting, Councilman Clark and Councilman Gardiner were selected to the Committee. At the same time, Councilman Clark informed the Council that as a former member of the Planning Commission, he served on a Commission Sub-committee with former Commissioner Ted Paulson that looked into improving the existing public handouts on the City’s Neighborhood Compatibility requirements. He reported that a new public handbook on the Neighborhood Compatibility process was scheduled to be reviewed by the Planning Commission in January of 2002. The Council then decided that upon the completion of the Commission’s review of the Handbook, that the document should be presented to the newly created Steering Committee for further review, and eventually presented to the City Council. (see attached December 4, 2001 minutes).

On January 22, 2002, the Planning Commission reviewed the Handbook prepared by the Sub-committee and forwarded the document to the newly created Steering Committee, for its review. Commissioner Cartwright and Commissioner Lyon were selected to the Steering Committee by the Commission. At that time, the Commission also expressed an interest in reviewing the Committee’s final document with the City Council at a joint workshop.

The Neighborhood Compatibility Steering Committee (referred herein as the Committee) was ultimately comprised of Councilman Clark, Councilman Gardiner, Commissioner Cartwright, Commissioner Lyon, and five community members; Ken Dyda, Lois Karp, Vic Quirarte, Don Shults, and Diane Weinberger. The Committee met for approximately one year, from February 15, 2001 through December 6, 2002. During this period, the Committee reviewed other Cities’ ordinances, the Development Code’s Neighborhood Compatibility requirements, as well as the City’s current residential development procedures and process. In its review, which will be discussed in greater detail in the next section, the Committee identified areas of the Neighborhood Compatibility process that warranted improvement. Furthermore, the Committee developed handouts, including a process chart, on the City’s Neighborhood Compatibility and residential development process that is intended to better inform the general public. Attached to this Staff Report is a notebook that includes the minutes from the Committee meetings, the proposed Handbook, and other relevant documents.

DISCUSSION:

Current Neighborhood Compatibility Analysis Process

On November 7, 1989, the voters of the City of Rancho Palos Verdes approved the "Cooperative View Preservation and Restoration Ordinance" (Proposition M). Among other things, Proposition M first established the Neighborhood Compatibility requirement for second story additions. Although the Ordinance has been amended slightly since it was adopted, and its intent clarified through the adoption of the "Height Variation Guidelines", the basic elements of the Neighborhood Compatibility criteria and analysis have remained intact. In addition, over the years, the Neighborhood Compatibility requirement has been expanded to apply to new single-family residences and residential additions that exceed 25% of the original structure size.

According to the current Development Code (see attached section 17.02.030.B), the determination of whether a new residence or an addition to an existing residence is compatible with the character of the neighborhood is made by the Planning Commission or Director of Planning, Building and Code Enforcement, as determined by the applicable permit application requested by an applicant. The Neighborhood Compatibility analysis involves an assessment of a proposed project in terms of "neighborhood character", which is defined by the Development Code as, 1) scale of surrounding residences, 2) architectural styles and building materials, and 3) front yard setbacks. The Director’s or Planning Commission’s determination of a project’s compatibility with the character of a neighborhood is generally based on a review of the above characteristics relative to the ten (10) closest residences (the immediate neighborhood). Notice of an application involving the Neighborhood Compatibility requirement is published in the local newspaper and mailed to property owners within 500 feet of the proposed project. Due to the noticing and analysis requirements, it takes approximately 2 to 3 months to process such applications.

If a proposed addition does not trigger the Neighborhood Compatibility requirement, the project application is solely reviewed by Staff to ensure compliance with the City’s development standards (setbacks, lot coverage, height, etc.). If the proposed project is in compliance with the Development Code standards, the application is administratively approved without public notice. This process takes approximately 2 to 3 working days.

Whether reviewed by the Planning Commission or the Director, the Neighborhood Compatibility criteria requires a new residence or addition to respect the character of the immediate neighborhood by minimizing mass and bulk through regulating square footage and incorporating architectural features that soften the visual appearance of a facade. During the current review process, if a project appears to be incompatible with the character of a neighborhood (based upon early public input or previous determination), Staff meets with the applicant to suggest possible design revisions that may be better suited for the character of the neighborhood. Although this approach can be beneficial to the applicant, it can also add a significant amount of time in processing an application, especially if an applicant elects to re-design the project. Furthermore, an applicant may choose to proceed with the process without incorporating Staff’s early suggestions, at which time neighbors may raise concerns with the compatibility of a structure during the public notice period, and further delay the process. Therefore, Staff is of the opinion that in order to successfully build a new residence or renovate an existing residence in a manner that is consistent with the character of an existing neighborhood, an early, cooperative effort between the City, the applicant, and the neighbors is essential.

Steering Committee Recommendations

The Committee began its review of the City’s Neighborhood Compatibility requirement by first acquainting itself with the process. Staff prepared a basic flow chart that summarized the current residential development process, including the steps that involve Neighborhood Compatibility. After a cursory review of the flow chart, the Committee, which consists of members who have at one time or another been involved in a residential development project in the City, expressed a similar concern as Staff of the importance in bringing various individuals together to address concerns early in the development process. As such, the Committee determined that the residential process had to be revised.

The following six (6) discussion items summarize the Committee’s proposed changes to the residential development process, specifically as it pertains to the Neighborhood Compatibility process. Some of the recommended changes will require an amendment to the Development Code, while other changes will need to be made to the City’s process. This will be identified under the respective discussion item.

1.Establishment of an Optional Pre-Application Process

The Committee felt that the best way to address neighbor concerns was to get the neighbors involved in the Neighborhood Compatibility process. The Committee’s thought was reinforced by a guest speaker, Ms. Kirsten Munz, from the City of Palos Verdes Estates, who was invited to speak at the March 1, 2002 meeting on Palos Verdes Estates’ recent changes to its Neighborhood Compatibility process. According to Ms. Munz, the City of Palos Verdes Estates implemented a "pre-application" process that has resulted in positive feedback from individuals involved in the process because concerns are addressed early in the process, subsequently saving the City and the applicant time in the application process.

As such, the Committee agreed that a "pre-application" step was needed in the City’s review process. The thought was that since the Neighborhood Compatibility analysis is intended to address a project’s compatibility with the character of a neighborhood, the residents of the immediate neighborhood should be given the opportunity to voice their concerns early in the process. After much discussion, the Committee ultimately decided that the "pre-application" step should be a voluntary step in the Neighborhood Compatibility process, so as to provide the applicant with an option to either address neighbor concerns early in the process or later. The Committee felt that as long as an applicant was informed by City Staff that the "pre-application" step would most likely save time and money in the long run, the choice should be made by the applicant. However, the Committee determined that in order for the "pre-application" to be effective, the following tasks should be accomplished by the applicant:

A.There should be notification sent to at least the twenty (20) closest neighbors of the pending application (see discussion on "Transitional Neighborhoods" below for information regarding the 20 closest residences). It should be noted that the Committee felt that the twenty closest should be the minimum required for notification because these are the properties that a project would be compared to. The Committee also felt that an applicant should be encouraged, but not required to notify property owners with a 500-foot radius because these residents would eventually be notified formally by the City.

B.There should be a neighborhood meeting, hosted by the applicant, so that the notified neighbors have an opportunity to review preliminary plans and express their concerns.

C.In order to ensure an applicant has successfully completed the "pre-application" step, the neighbors who attend the "pre-application" meeting should sign a consultation form.

The forms for each step in the "pre-application" process are included in the Appendix section of the Neighborhood Compatibility Handbook.

2.Expansion of the Number of Neighborhood Compatibility Triggers

Currently, the Neighborhood Compatibility requirement is triggered by only the following five (5) types of projects:

A.New residences proposed on undeveloped land.

B.New residences that are proposed to replace an existing residence.

C.Existing residences that are proposed to be remodeled or renovated such that fifty (50) percent or greater of the existing exterior walls or existing square footage is demolished (i.e., a "tear-down/re-build").

D.Additions to existing single-family residences consisting of a twenty-five (25) percent or more expansion of the total square footage of the original main residence, including the garage.

E.The construction of a new second or higher story or an addition to an existing second or higher story, pursuant to Section 17.02 of the Development Code.

It should be noted that after further review of the above triggers, the Committee determined that Trigger ‘D’ above did not adequately address cumulative additions. Therefore, the Committee suggests revising Trigger ‘D’ as follows:

Cumulative additions to existing single-family residences that result in greater than either a twenty-five (25) percent or 750 square foot expansion of the total square footage of the original residence including the garage and detached structures.

Furthermore, the Committee felt that additional triggers should be added for other types of projects that may adversely impact the character of a neighborhood. Therefore, the Committee suggests adding the following projects to the list of Neighborhood Compatibility triggers:

F.Lot coverage that exceeds the maximum allowed in Chapter 17.02 of the Development Code (see Appendix B of the Handbook).

G.An addition of a second story deck or balcony eighty (80) square feet or larger in area, or projecting more than six (6) feet from the existing building. [note: Staff also suggests expanding this trigger to include roof decks and deleting the current Development Code prohibition against roof decks]

H.An addition of a second story deck or balcony that is located in a required setback area.

  1. An addition of a mezzanine, whether in whole or in part, to an existing structure that modifies the exterior of the structure.

It should be noted that the aforementioned triggers recommended by the Committee will require a code amendment if desired by the Council. This is discussed later in this Staff Report.

3.Inclusion of Side- and Rear-Yard Setbacks as a Part of the Neighborhood Compatibility Criteria

In regards to setbacks, the Committee is recommending that the criteria used in the analysis of Neighborhood Compatibility be modified to include side and rear yard setbacks in addition to front yard setbacks. The Committee believes that a project that is proposed to be constructed in the side or rear of a lot may adversely impact the character of a neighborhood. Therefore, the Committee would like to see the criteria modified accordingly.

It should be noted that Staff has a concern with adding side yard and rear yard setbacks to the Neighborhood Compatibility criteria because of the difficulty a case planner may experience in trying to calculate the setback distances for the properties in the immediate neighborhood. Without having access to each of the residences within the immediate neighborhood (the Committee is suggesting this be increased from the ten (10) closest to the twenty (20) closest properties) Staff would most likely have to rely on aerial photographs or "eyeball" estimates from the public right-of-way since this information is not generally contained in City and County building permits, nor in the County Assessor’s data. This lack of reliable data may reduce the effectiveness of such an analysis. Furthermore, with respect to Neighborhood Compatibility, Staff believes that although the side and rear yards are important, the required setbacks currently regulate the distance a structure can be built from a property line. Furthermore, the visual appearance of a structure is typically most prevalent along the street-facing facade, which Staff can evaluate in terms of the immediate neighborhood by driving or walking along the street.

4.Defining "Neighborhood," "Transitional Neighborhood" and "Immediate Neighborhood"

The Committee investigated whether the process could be improved by defining the terms "neighborhood" and "transitional neighborhood." A concern was raised by several Committee members that specific neighborhoods are experiencing a rapid surge of new construction and significant remodels, and that the application of a Neighborhood Compatibility requirement is critical in these neighborhoods. Therefore, the Committee on several occasions attempted to define these terms. However, after numerous attempts, the Committee determined that defining "transitional neighborhoods" was a difficult task because it was not so much that specific neighborhoods were experiencing a change, but rather that the entire City was in transition. The Committee’s determination was supported by the fact that the City Council in 1999 amended the Development Code so that the "maximum structure size" criteria would be replaced by the Neighborhood Compatibility requirement for reviewing new residences and residential additions. This change in the City’s process reflected the fact that the City was in transition and that the preservation of the character of a neighborhood would be best addressed by the application of the Neighborhood Compatibility criteria.

Therefore, based on the discussion at the October 4, 2002 meeting, the Committee determined that "transitional neighborhoods" could not be defined for the reasons stated above (see October 4th NC Minutes). At the same time, the Committee also agreed that "neighborhood" could not be defined. However, the Committee did agree that the immediate neighborhood, for the purpose of Neighborhood Compatibility analysis, should be the twenty (20) closest homes by distance (the closest homes could include developed properties behind the subject parcel, as well as those properties on the same street). The Committee felt that the current analysis of the ten (10) closest homes did not adequately represent the immediate neighborhood. Therefore, the Committee is recommending the Council consider increasing the criteria analysis to the twenty (20) closest residences. It should be noted that if deemed acceptable by the Council, the recommended increase would require an amendment to the Height Variation Guidelines.

5.Requiring the Construction and Certification of a Silhouette

A concern was raised by the Committee that in certain cases the required 500-foot public notification radius might not adequately contact property owners that are impacted by a project (this may be the case with projects that are located upslope from a property and can be viewed from properties below). Therefore, the Committee decided that similar to the Height Variation process, projects requiring the Neighborhood Compatibility analysis should be required to construct a project silhouette prior to deeming the application complete for processing. The Committee felt that if a property owner does not receive a public notice but a silhouette is constructed, that property owner is effectively advised of a pending project and has the opportunity to learn about it and express their concerns by contacting the Planning Department.

It should be noted that in the past, for some applications the accuracy of project silhouettes has been questioned by concerned residents during the review process. Therefore, in order to address accuracy concerns, the Committee is recommending that all silhouettes be certified for accuracy by a licensed surveyor. Unless otherwise directed by the City Council/Planning Commission, this process change will become effective upon the implementation of the suggested changes.

6.Creation of a Process Chart

The Committee felt that the changes made to the residential process, including Neighborhood Compatibility, should be captured in a diagram that illustrates the various steps in the process. The process chart, which the Committee titled the "Single-Family Residential Development Project Process Chart," can be reviewed in the Handbook (see page 5). In summary, the Process Chart identifies the steps that an applicant would typically need to complete for a proposed residential project, from the time an applicant contacts the Planning Department through the decision process. The boxes relevant to the Neighborhood Compatibility steps are highlighted in bold. Furthermore, a detailed written explanation of each step can be found in the Appendix section of the Handbook. It should be noted that the Process Chart was also designed to be a stand- alone document that would be made available to the general public as a pocket brochure.

 

Neighborhood Compatibility Handbook

The Neighborhood Compatibility Handbook attached to this Staff Report has been prepared under the auspices of the Committee. The intent of the Handbook is to provide the general public with information regarding the process and requirements of the Neighborhood Compatibility analysis, as well as suggest design tips that can be incorporated into the design of a residential project to ensure its compatibility with existing neighborhoods. As such, the attached Handbook has been divided into three sections (not including the Introduction), as described below.

1.Policy Administration - This section of the Handbook explains the City’s Neighborhood Compatibility process, as it pertains to when it applies, the pre-applications steps, the time limits, who reviews a project, public notification, and the decision process. Included in this section are the Neighborhood Compatibility triggers, as well as the process chart described earlier in this Report.

2.Classic Architectural Styles – This section describes architectural styles of residences commonly found in California, including the City of Rancho Palos Verdes. A summary of the basic physical components of these different architectural styles is provided in the Handbook and is intended to assist an applicant in designing a project that is true to the architectural style and its relationship to the characteristics of the immediate neighborhood.

It should be noted that the architectural styles depicted in the Handbook do not necessarily exclude or limit the development of other architectural styles. However, proposed architectural styles that are not referenced in the Handbook will be reviewed more stringently with respect to the City’s Neighborhood Compatibility requirement and its relationship to the characteristics of the immediate neighborhood.

3.Design Tips - The design tips and other suggestions presented throughout this section of the Handbook are to elaborate on how design elements of the architectural styles identified in the Handbook may be integrated into the planning of a structure to better achieve compatibility with the character of a neighborhood. It should be noted that the Handbook emphasizes the fact that these tips and suggestions are not mandated, but rather intended to assist in the design of a project. Some of the suggested design tips stated in this section are intended for new residences, while others are intended for room additions and remodels to existing residences. These design tips put a great deal of emphasis on understanding the characteristics of a neighborhood.

In addition to the Handbook, the Committee prepared a brochure that summarizes the Neighborhood Compatibility processes as a convenient one-page handout. The brochure contains condensed information from the Handbook, such as the Neighborhood Compatibility triggers, who reviews a project requiring the Neighborhood Compatibility analysis, the Process Chart, and how to contact the Planning Department. The pocket brochure can be reviewed in the attached notebook.

Handbook Review

The Committee expressed an interest in receiving input on the draft Handbook and its related handouts from individuals who are directly involved in residential development projects in the City. As such, the Committee requested Staff provide a draft copy of the Handbook to the president of the Council of Homeowners Association, an architect and a real estate professional for their input. Pursuant to the Committee’s direction, Staff contacted Brian Campbell, president of the Council of Homeowners Associations; Renee Cartwright, real estate professional; and Luis De Moraes, architect (and former View Restoration Commissioner) for their comments on the Handbook.

The Draft Neighborhood Compatibility Handbook and its related handouts were transmitted to these individuals on Thursday, January 30, 2003. Therefore, Staff was not able to receive their comments in time for inclusion in this report. However, their written comments will be provided at the Joint Workshop. Furthermore, some individual have indicated an interest in attending the workshop to verbally express their thoughts.

Public Awareness of Handbook

In order to prevent the Handbook from becoming a shelved document, the Committee agreed that the public needed to be informed of the Handbook. Therefore, the Committee felt that the general public, including architects, real estate professionals, builders, and homeowner associations should be made aware of the Handbook and its related documents by the following:

  • Placing the Handbook on the City’s website
  • Making the Handbook available at the public counter
  • Placing an article on the Handbook in the City’s newsletter
  • Placing the Handbook on the reader board
  • Providing a special public service announcement on COX Cable
  • Providing the Handbook to realtors
  • Providing the Handbook to the City’s various Homeowner’s Associations
  • Providing the Handbook to the Council of Homeowners Association
  • Providing the Handbook to architects
  • Preparing a corresponding video to the Handbook that explains the process. The video could be made available to the general public, Staff members and new City Officials.

One Year Follow-up Review of Handbook

As previously noted, the Committee’s review of the City’s Neighborhood Compatibility requirement has resulted in proposed changes to the process. In order to evaluate the effectiveness of the proposed changes, the Committee is recommending that, one year after the changes are implemented and the Handbook is made available to the public, the Committee reconvene to review the process. To encourage input from residents involved in the revised process, Staff will prepare a questionnaire that will be made available along with the Handbook and related project applications. Based on input gathered from the questionnaire, as well as comments from the Planning Commission and Staff, the Committee will revisit the process and present any subsequent proposed changes to the Council.

Necessary Code and Guideline Amendments

In the event that the Council supports the proposed changes to the Neighborhood Compatibility process, certain amendments to the Development Code would be required. As discussed in this Report, the following is a summary of the necessary Code Amendments:

  1. Increasing the number of Neighborhood Compatibility triggers;
  2. Adding side and rear setbacks to the factors considered in Neighborhood Compatibility analysis; and,
  3. As suggested by Staff, eliminating the current prohibition against roof decks and relying upon new Neighborhood Compatibility standards for reviewing such second-story decks and balconies.

Furthermore, the following amendments would be made to the existing Height Variation Guidelines:

1.Increasing the "immediate neighborhood" from the ten (10) closest to the twenty (20) closest residences.

If the Council agrees to implement the proposed Neighborhood Compatibility requirements, the corresponding amendment to the Development Code and height Variation Guidelines would first be reviewed by the Planning Commission through a noticed public hearing process, and then forwarded to the City Council for its consideration and eventual adoption.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Costs Involved

Staff believes that the proposed changes will definitely affect the amount of time it takes Staff to process a Neighborhood Compatibility application. There will be additional Staff time as a result of the increase in the analysis criteria from the ten (10) closest to the twenty (20) closest residences, as well as the proposed inclusion of the side and rear setbacks into the review criteria. It should be noted that the Committee’s suggested "pre-application" step and requiring that a project silhouette be constructed and certified will most likely reduce Staff time that is typically spent on analyzing a project. This is because the "pre-application" process is designed to address neighborhood concerns prior to formally submitting an application to the City. However, since this is a voluntary step, not all applicants will complete this step. At this time, it is unknown whether the change in Staff review time will require an amendment to the application filing fee. Therefore, if the Council considers the Committee’s proposed changes to the Code, once the changes are implemented, Staff will monitor the time involved in processing a Neighborhood Compatibility application in relation to the relevant costs to determine whether a fee increase is warranted.

Outstanding Concerns

In its review of the City’s residential development process, the Committee identified concerns with the current Development Code’s residential standards. Although the outstanding concerns are not directly related to the Committee’s assigned task in reviewing the Neighborhood Compatibility requirements, they represent concerns that the Committee believes need to be addressed by the City Council. The Committee’s concerns are summarized as follows:

  1. The single-family residential standards as they pertain to lot area and lot density: Some Committee members expressed concern that the latest trend of lot splits and subdivisions being proposed include lot sizes that are incompatible with the size of lots within surrounding neighborhoods. Although the Committee recognizes that these proposed subdivisions comply with the City’s existing residential development standards, there was concern that the resultant densities may be incompatible with the character of the neighboring lots.
  2. The Development Code’s lot coverage standards: A concern was raised by the Committee that the current maximum lot coverage standards result in smaller lots having greater lot coverage than larger lots. Specifically, in the RS-5 zoning district, the minimum lot size permitted in this zoning district is 8,000 square feet, while the maximum permitted lot coverage is 52% of the lot. Under this scenario, an 8,000 square foot lot could have up to 4,160 square feet of lot coverage, which may result in an overly-built lot because it is more than half of the lot size.
  3. The Development Code’s required setbacks: In addition to the lot coverage standards, some Committee members also believe that the setback standards may need to be increased so that there is more open space between residences.

If the Council finds that the above concerns warrant further analysis, the Council may wish to discuss the concerns at the workshop or direct Staff to further research these concerns and continue the discussion to a later date.

FISCAL IMPACT:

As previously noted, at this time fiscal impacts that may result from the proposed changes to the Neighborhood Compatibility process are unknown. Staff recommends that the revised process be monitored for one year after implementation to assess the possible fiscal impacts. In the event the revised process results in an increase to costs, Staff will recommend that the council consider an amendment to the application filing fees involving neighborhood compatibility analyses.

 

Respectfully submitted,

 

 

Joel Rojas

Director of Planning, Building and

Code Enforcement

 

Reviewed by:

 

 

Les Evans

City Manager

 

ATTACHMENTS:

  • Neighborhood Compatibility Notebook (minutes, Handbook, Process Chart, and other relevant documents)

M:\NEIGHBORHOOD COMPATIBILITY\STEERING COMMITTEE\FEBRUARY 8, 2003\STAFF REPORT.doc