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TO: HONORABLE MAYOR AND COUNCILMEMBERS
FROM: DIRECTOR OF PLANNING, BUILDING & CODE ENFORCEMENT
DATE: DECEMBER 7, 2004
SUBJECT: COMPLAINTS REGARDING CONSTRUCTION AT 2 YACHT HARBOR DRIVE
Staff Coordinator: Kit Fox, AICP, Senior Planner
Receive and file the report on Seaview residents’ concerns regarding construction of the project at 2 Yacht Harbor Drive, and provide direction to Staff for future action, as deemed necessary and appropriate.
At the November 16, 2004 City Council meeting, several Seaview residents addressed the City Council under "Audience Comments" to express their concerns regarding construction activities at 2 Yacht Harbor Drive in the Portuguese Bend Club community. This report is a brief response to the major issues raised in those comments and in past discussions with Seaview residents.
Eric Johnson’s residential compound at 2 Yacht Harbor Drive (Altamira) was approved by the Planning Commission in November 2001 (see attached project chronology and P.C. Resolution No. 2001-46). The approved project encompasses a 9,480-square-foot main house with basement, a 3,685-square-foot detached garage, a 1,065-square-foot detached study, and a 1,195-square-foot detached guesthouse, for a grand total of 15,425 square feet of habitable space on a building site with a gross area of 18.88 acres. Construction activity commenced in the late-Summer 2002, beginning with the realignment of Yacht Harbor Drive (a private street within the Portuguese Bend Club community) and installation of a new storm drain, which was followed by the construction of the main house, garage and other detached accessory structures in early-Spring 2003.
During the course of construction, two major issues of concern have been raised by residents in the Seaview community, which is located directly across Palos Verdes Drive South from the project site. Both of these issues focus on the northwesterly portion of the site, an area that has come to be known as the "rock mesa" (see attached overall site plan). The "rock mesa" area and the main building site are all one lot (Parcel 3 of Parcel Map No. 17161), which was the site of the formerly-approved 10-home Transamerica residential subdivision. First, in December 2002 Seaview residents first expressed concern that the re-grading of the "rock mesa" area associated with the new storm drain would result in significant view impairment that was not discussed or analyzed when the Planning Commission reviewed the project in 2001. Second, in October 2003 Seaview residents first expressed concern about the impacts of the stonecutting activity in the "rock mesa" area, which became more pronounced in January and February 2004 with addition of more saws, and continued for more than the 6-month duration expected by Staff and Mr. Johnson’s construction supervisor. The following discussion addresses each of these issues, and Staff’s and Mr. Johnson’s responses to them.
Grading of "Rock Mesa" Area
As mentioned above, the approved project included infrastructure improvements involving the realignment of Yacht Harbor Drive and the construction of a new storm drain from Palos Verdes Drive South to Yacht Harbor Drive in the same general location as a then-existing open drainage ditch. Much of the "rock mesa" area is located within the City’s Landslide Moratorium Area (LMA). However, no permanent aboveground structures are permitted anywhere on the "rock mesa," either in or out of the LMA, as a part of the project approved by the Planning Commission.
A portion of the underground storm drain falls within the LMA. However, the City’s Development Code excludes the installation of storm drains and similar underground utility and infrastructure improvements from the definition of "grading." Therefore, the installation of the storm drain and the related re-grading of the "rock mesa" area to accommodate the storm drain installation were included in the plans approved by the Planning Commission since they are consistent with the LMA restrictions on this portion of the property.
After the storm drain had been installed, the issue of view impairment due to the altered grade in the "rock mesa" area was brought to Staff’s attention. As a result, Staff asked Mr. Johnson’s civil engineer to certify that the grading of the "rock mesa" had been done in accordance with the plans presented to the Planning Commission. Mr. Johnson’s civil engineer did so certify. Nevertheless, since it was apparent that many Seaview residents were concerned about the elevation change in this area, Staff asked Mr. Johnson to prepare a revised grading plan to lower the seaward edge of the "rock mesa" to be consistent with the preconstruction condition (i.e., up to four feet (4’) lower than the configuration approved by the Planning Commission in some locations). Mr. Johnson agreed to prepare a plan to lower the grade to appease the Seaview neighbors’ concerns. This plan was submitted to Staff, presented to the concerned Seaview residents, and eventually approved by Staff on March 26, 2003 (see attached letter to Eric Johnson).
Some of the re-grading of the "rock mesa" was completed in April 2003, mainly in the easterly portion that was not being used for the stockpiling of rock at the time. The re-grading of the rest of the "rock mesa" area must be done before the permits for the roadway realignment and site infrastructure improvements are finalized, and the final grade of the "rock mesa" area will need to be certified by a registered civil engineer as complying with the revised plan approved on March 26, 2003. Staff advised the Seaview residents of this in May and June of 2003, and they seemed to understand and be generally satisfied to wait for the completion of the re-grading of the "rock mesa" area towards the end of the construction of the project. It should also be noted that, in addition to the prohibition against any permanent aboveground structures in this area, the landscaping of the "rock mesa" will be limited to low shrubs and grasses to be maintained at a height of no more than eighteen inches (18") above the finished grade.
Stonecutting on "Rock Mesa" Area
The architectural plans reviewed and approved by the Planning Commission in 2001 noted that stone veneer would be applied to many portions of the exterior of the main house, garage and other detached accessory structures and site walls. Mr. Johnson began to stockpile stone for this purpose shortly after the project was approved, eventually moving these stockpiles to the "rock mesa" area of the site. Stonecutting began in early-October 2003 with just a few saws. Seaview residents expressed concern about this activity, but at the time it was a relatively small-scale operation, was being conducted in accordance with the approved hours of operation of the project, and did not appear to be generating fugitive dust. It should be noted that neither the project applications nor the conditions of approval in P.C. Resolution No. 2001-46 specifically addressed stonecutting operations, but it was Staff’s position that this was construction-related activity that was consistent with the approved project.
However, by late-January 2004 the number of saws in use had increased significantly, as had complaints from Seaview residents. Although the Seaview residents indicated that their ideal solution would be to move the stonecutting operation, they also suggested that the placement of a sound barrier would help reduce the noise level from the saws. Staff was initially reluctant to suggest a sound barrier as it could be aesthetically objectionable to the Seaview residents. However, since the residents seemed receptive to this solution, Staff asked Mr. Johnson to take steps to attenuate the noise from the saws with a sound barrier, and consulted with his construction supervisor regarding the expected duration of the stonecutting activity. Mr. Johnson agreed to erect a sound barrier, which was first put in place on about February 6, 2004. Also in early-February 2004, Staff was advised that the stonecutting would take about six (6) months to complete, meaning that it should have been done by some time in August 2004. From February 2004 through April 2004, Staff continued to work with Seaview residents and Mr. Johnson to expand and refine the sound barrier around the saws to reduce the noise level, with some improvement reported to Staff by Seaview residents with these additional modifications. From April 2004 through the end of Summer 2004, Staff received no further complaints about noise from the stonecutting saws from Seaview residents.
As mentioned above, much of the "rock mesa" area is located within the LMA. Some concerned Seaview residents have asserted that the stonecutting activity is a violation of the LMA restrictions. Again, it is Staff’s position that this is temporary, construction-related activity that is not prohibited within the LMA. If temporary, construction-related activities were inconsistent with the LMA, then it would be impossible for any owner of property within the LMA to remodel or add to an existing home without violating the LMA restrictions. Thus, Staff believes that its approach was consistent with the treatment of other construction projects located within the LMA.
By mid-September 2004, the stonecutting activities on the "rock mesa" area had not been completed. In addition, Seaview residents began reporting that fugitive dust from this activity was collecting inside their homes. Staff and Seaview residents were initially concerned that Mr. Johnson had made some unauthorized change to the project that was prolonging the stonecutting operations. However, based upon a site investigation and careful review of the approved plans, Staff believes that the initial 6-month estimate to complete the stonecutting was overly optimistic. At Staff’s request, Mr. Johnson provided a revised construction schedule that estimates that the stonecutting activity would be complete by early-March 2005, which seems to be more realistic. However, given Staff’s observation of stone dust inside a Seaview residence on two recent occasions—a violation of the City’s Development Code—Staff ordered Mr. Johnson to cease the large-scale stonecutting operations on the "rock mesa" area, and move these activities to an off-site location (see attached letters). Although Mr. Johnson has expressed interest in conducting testing and analysis to identify the source of the dust, and implementing more robust dust-control mitigation measures, Staff continues to believe and assert that the best way to address the Seaview residents concerns about the stonecutting activity is to remove it from the site as soon as possible. An additional benefit to removing this activity from the "rock mesa" area is that the area could be cleared and re-graded sooner, thereby addressing the Seaview residents other major concern about this project.
It should be noted that, since the approved project plans called for the use of stone veneer on the buildings and some site walls, Staff’s order to cease the large-scale stonecutting operations does not preclude the use of a minimal number of stonecutting saws for the final fitting and installation of the stone veneer on the building and site walls. These remaining saws must be located immediately adjacent to the areas where the stone veneer is being applied and as far as possible from nearby residences. Staff expects that this could be accomplished with only two or three saws, based upon our observations during a site visit in September 2004.
At the meeting on November 16, 2004, the City Council questioned the time period for which building permits are issued. Section 15.18.050 of the Municipal Code states that permits for projects in excess of 10,000 square feet shall be valid for a period of thirty (30) months from issuance. In addition, all building permits are eligible for a further 6-month extension, based upon a finding by the Building Official that the applicant is proceeding with diligence to complete the project in a timely fashion. Based upon the issuance of the building permit for the main house and other structures on February 20, 2003, Mr. Johnson has until at least August 20, 2005 to complete the project, not including the additional 6-month extension for which he may apply. According to the construction schedule provided to Staff on October 8, 2004, Mr. Johnson expects to complete the project some time between mid-August and mid-September 2005.
Based upon the foregoing discussion, Staff recommends that the City Council receive and file the report on Seaview residents’ concerns regarding construction of the project at 2 Yacht Harbor Drive, and provide direction to Staff for future action, as deemed necessary and appropriate.
There is no direct fiscal impact to the City as a result of the review of these issues related to the project at 2 Yacht Harbor Drive. However, subsequent action by the City Council based upon this review has the potential to result in litigation against the City. The costs of such litigation cannot be reliably estimated at this time.
Joel Rojas, AICP, Director of Planning, Building and Code Enforcement
Les Evans, City Manager
P.C. Resolution No. 2001-46
Overall site plan
Letter to Eric Johnson regarding grading (dated 3/26/03)
Letters to Eric Johnson regarding stonecutting (dated 10/15/04, 11/10/04 & 11/18/04)
Letters from Eric Johnson regarding stonecutting (received 10/25/04, 11/15/04, 11/18/04 & 11/23/04)
Jan 19 2001 Applications for a coastal permit and a grading permit for the proposed structures are submitted to City.
May 3 2001 Applications for a coastal permit and a grading permit for the realignment of Yacht Harbor Drive are submitted to City.
Aug 27 2001 Applications for the proposed structures and the realignment of Yacht Harbor Drive are deemed complete.
Oct 9 2001 First public hearing is held before the Planning Commission. The applicant is directed to silhouette the ridgelines of the structures to assist in evaluating the view impacts of the project. The Planning Commission also decides to consider the applications for the structures and the roadway realignment as a single project.
Oct 23 2001 Second public hearing is held before the Planning Commission. The silhouette is not yet been completed, but the Staff report addresses several other issues raised by Seaview residents, including the bases for measuring the heights of the proposed structures; geology and landslide moratorium issues; light and glare impacts related to the realignment of Yacht Harbor Drive; and a comparison to the previously-approved Transamerica residential subdivision on the same site.
Nov 13 2001 The silhouettes are completed and the project is revised and scaled back in size. The maximum height of the revised project is reduced by two feet (2’), the total square footage of all of the proposed structures is reduced by 7,290 square feet, and the total non-remedial grading for the proposed structures is reduced by 4,705 cubic yards.
Nov 27 2001 Third and final public hearing is held before the Planning Commission. The revised project is unanimously approved, subject to the conditions specified in P.C. Resolution No. 2001-46.
Dec 13 2001 The 15-day City appeal period ends for the project with no appeal filed by any interested parties. A Notice of Final Decision is sent to the Coastal Commission.
Dec 14 2001 The 10-day Coastal Commission appeal period begins.
Dec 31 2001 The 10-day Coastal Commission appeal period ends with no appeal filed by any interested parties. The City’s approval of the project is now final.
Feb 7 2002 Plans for the roadway realignment and storm drain are submitted to the Building and Safety Department.
Jun 28 2002 Plans for the main house, garage and other structures are submitted to the Building and Safety Department.
Aug 15 2002 The Building and Safety Department issues the permit for the roadway realignment and storm drain.
Oct 8 2002 The Building and Safety Department issues the permit to begin excavation within the footprints of the structures.
Dec 23 2002 Seaview residents first advise Staff of their concerns about the elevation of the grading of the so-called "rock mesa" area.
Jan 30 2003 Staff meets with a group of Seaview residents in one of their homes to discuss their concerns about the grading of the "rock mesa" area and its impact upon their views.
Feb 4 2003 Staff meets with Mr. Johnson to discuss the Seaview residents’ concerns about the "rock mesa" area.
Feb 7 2003 Staff determines that the grading of the "rock mesa" area is consistent with the plans approved by the Planning Commission. However, Staff asks Mr. Johnson to prepare a revised grading plan for this area to address the Seaview residents’ concerns within thirty (30) days.
Feb 7 2003 The Building and Safety Department issues a "foundation-only" permit for the structures.
Feb 20 2003 Staff meets with Mr. Johnson to discuss the status of the revised grading plan for the "rock mesa" area.
Feb 20 2003 The Building and Safety Department issues the permit to complete the construction of the remainder of the structures.
Mar 6 2003 Mr. Johnson submits the revised grading plan for the "rock mesa" area to Staff.
Mar 13 2003 Staff meets with a group of Seaview residents in one of their homes to discuss the revised grading plan for the "rock mesa" area. Councilmember Clark also attended this meeting.
Mar 25 2003 Staff meets with a group of Seaview residents at City Hall to further discuss the revised grading plan for the "rock mesa" area.
Mar 26 2003 Staff conditionally approves the revised grading plan for the "rock mesa" area. The revised grading needs to be completed before the permits for the roadway realignment and storm drain are finaled by the Building and Safety Department.
Oct 3 2003 Seaview residents first advise Staff of their concerns about stonecutting activity on the site. Staff advises the residents that this activity is consistent with the construction of the project, as long as it is conducted only during approved construction hours and does not create fugitive dust.
Nov 4 2003 Seaview residents express concern about the placement of an outhouse near Palos Verdes Drive South, the storage of vehicles not related to the construction of the project, and general construction site maintenance. Mr. Johnson moves the outhouse away from Palos Verdes Drive South, removes non-construction vehicles and removes some construction debris from the "rock mesa" area.
28 Jan 2004 Seaview residents advise Staff that the noise from the stonecutting activity has gotten much worse, apparently due to an increase in the number of saws being used.
4 Feb 2004 Mr. Johnson agrees to rearrange the storage trailers/containers on the "rock mesa" area to form a sound barrier.
5 Feb 2004 Staff explains to the Seaview residents that the additional saws will allow the stonecutting activity to be completed more quickly, according to Mr. Johnson’s construction supervisor. The stonecutting is estimated to take about six (6) more months, or through August 2004.
12 Feb 2004 Seaview residents report some improvement in the noise level, but they note that there are gaps in the sound barrier. Staff asks Mr. Johnson to make further adjustments to the sound barrier to close these gaps.
19 Feb 2004 Seaview residents report that the ends of the sound barrier are not sufficiently enclosed. Staff asks Mr. Johnson to extend the sound barrier to better enclose all of the saws.
1 Mar 2004 Seaview residents report a remaining gap in the sound barrier that is exposing a saw. Staff asks Mr. Johnson to close this gap.
18 Mar 2004 Seaview residents report that the ends of the sound barrier are still not sufficiently enclosed. They also report the installation of a concrete slab. Staff asks Mr. Johnson to further extend the sound barrier to better enclose all of the saws. The concrete slab is a temporary feature in order to control erosion, and will be removed before the building permits are finaled.
20 Sep 2004 Seaview residents report that stonecutting activity continues. They also report dust inside homes and in outdoor living areas in the Seaview community.
30 Sep 2004 Staff conducts a site inspection at 2 Yacht Harbor Drive to see the stonecutting operation and observe the general progress of the project. Staff asks Mr. Johnson to provide a revised schedule for the completion of the project, including the stonecutting operations. Staff does not observe visible dust emanating from the stonecutting saws during their operation. However, afterwards, Staff visits a Seaview resident’s home and observes unusual dust on blinds and windowsills inside the home.
8 Oct 2004 Mr. Johnson submits the revised project schedule. It indicates that the stonecutting activity would be complete by early-March 2005, and that the entire project would be complete by mid-September 2005.
15 Oct 2004 Staff asks Mr. Johnson to implement more effective dust control techniques on the site and/or move the stonecutting activity to another location further away from "downwind" homes. A response is requested within ten (10) days.
25 Oct 2004 Staff receives a response from Mr. Johnson. His response concedes that the possible source of the dust is the dried residue from the sumps for the stonecutting saws. He also suggests that the dust might be coming from another source. He agrees to more carefully monitoring the handling of the residue from the sumps.
25 Oct 2004 In reply to an e-mail updating Seaview residents on the revised project schedule, litigation against the City is threatened.
3 Nov 2004 Staff again visits the residence where dust was observed, accompanied by the City’s geologist. The City geologist observes the dust on the blinds and windowsills, and opines that its source is the stonecutting operation, based upon the color and waxy consistency of the dust, and the close proximity of the residence to the stonecutting area.
10 Nov 2004 Staff advises Mr. Johnson that the City believes that the dust is emanating from his stonecutting operation, which is a violation of the City’s Municipal Code. He is ordered to cease the large-scale stonecutting operations immediately and relocate this activity off site. He is allowed to maintain a minimal number of stonecutting saws on the building site for use in the final fitting and installation of the cut stone.
15 Nov 2004 Due to the Veterans’ Day holiday, Mr. Johnson had not yet received the City’s letter of November 10th. During a visit to the site, Staff hand-delivers a copy of the letter. On-site stonecutting operations cease that afternoon.
16 Nov 2004 Staff meets with Mr. Johnson and an industrial hygienist on the project site to discuss the possibility of testing to determine the source of the fugitive dust and developing further mitigation measures to eliminate it. Such testing would require brief periods of stonecutting to collect samples.
16 Nov 2004 During the "Audience Comments" portion of that evening’s agenda, Seaview residents address the City Council regarding the stonecutting activity and other construction-related impacts of the project. The City Council agrees to be briefed on the matter in closed session, due to the threat of litigation.
17 Nov 2004 Mr. Johnson provides a proposal for testing from the industrial hygienist for Staff’s review.
18 Nov 2004 Staff advises Mr. Johnson that, given the continued concern of the Seaview residents over the stonecutting operation and the City Council’s direction to review the matter in closed session, Staff cannot authorize or approve any monitoring and sampling program that requires even limited additional stonecutting operations. Staff reiterates the request from the November 10th letter that the stonecutting operations be moved off site in order to avoid delaying the completion of the project.
23 Nov 2004 Mr. Johnson submits a letter replying to the City’s letter of November 18th and to comments made before the City Council on November 16th. He also begins the removal of approximately 500 cubic yards of material from the project site, include stonecutting spoils from the "rock mesa" area.