CALL TO ORDER
The meeting was called to order at 7:05 p.m. by Chairman Lyon at the Fred Hesse Community Room, 29301 Hawthorne Boulevard.
Senior Planner Fox led the assembly in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Also present were Director of Planning, Building and Code Enforcement Rojas, Senior Planner Fox, Senior Planner Mihranian, City Attorney Lynch, and Recording Secretary Peterson.
APPROVAL OF AGENDA
Chairman Lyon suggested hearing items 4 and 3 before hearing items 1 and 2. The Commission unanimously approved.
Director/Secretary Rojas distributed one item of correspondence for Agenda item no. 1 and two letters received at the firstname.lastname@example.org address, which he stated that he had responded to.
Director/Secretary Rojas congratulated Vice Chairman Clark on his election to the City Council and stated that he looked forward to working with him as a City Council member.
Chairman Lyon recognized and congratulated Vice Chairman Clark on his recent election to the City Council.
The Commissioners reported that they had visited the sites for the agenda items and had met with the neighbors and/or applicants at the sites.
NEW BUSINESS4. Neighborhood Compatibility Sub-Committee Report
Vice Chairman Clark gave a brief history and the reason for the formation of the Neighborhood Compatibility Sub-Committee, which was to improve public awareness of the City’s neighborhood compatibility criteria. He explained that a draft public brochure has been prepared, but was not yet suitable for presentation to the Planning Commission.
Commissioner Paulson agreed that the brochure was not yet ready, but once completed he felt it would be a very useful tool for the residents in the community for the understanding of the process and requirements.
Vice Chairman Clark stated the two sub-committee members would not be able to complete their task before leaving the Planning Commission, but would like to see the Commission finish this brochure with staff.
Chairman Lyon suggested having staff complete the brochure and present it to the Planning Commission when they are satisfied it is ready for review.
Director/Secretary Rojas felt staff had clear direction from the sub-committee and could present something to the Planning Commission at the second meeting in January.
The Commission agreed to allow staff to complete the brochure based on the sub-committee’s direction and present the Planning Commission with a final draft for further review at the second meeting in January.
At this point Vice Chairman Clark read a memo dated November 27, 2001 on the subject of the resignation from the Rancho Palos Verdes Planning Commission. The memo stated that Vice Chairman Clark would, in light of his recent election to the Rancho Palos Verdes City Council, resign from the Planning Commission effective November 27, 2001 at 8:00 p.m. He stated he held his colleagues on the Planning Commission in very high esteem and were outstanding representatives of the community and thanked the Planning Department staff for their excellent work and support.
The Commissioners thanked Vice Chairman Clark for his had work and professionalism during his time on the Planning Commission and wished him well.
Vice Chairman Clark left the meeting at 7:30 p.m.3. Grading Permit No. 2191: Larry Peha (applicant) and Mr. And Mrs. Heru Wiredja (owner), 3815 Palos Verdes Drive South
Senior Planner Mihranian presented the staff report. He stated that the item was requested by the applicant to clarify the intent of condition 19 adopted by the Commission at the October 9, 2001 meeting. He explained that at the public hearing the project architect expressed his disagreement with the proposed condition to redesign a flat roof over the living room and entry foyer to a pitched roof, and had asked that the condition be removed. He stated the Commission had approved the project with no specific direction to delete the condition. He concluded by recommending the Planning Commission affirm condition no. 19 thereby requiring the applicant re-design the proposed flat roof over the living room and foyer to a pitched roof.
Commissioner Long asked if the Planning Commissioners recalled any further discussion regarding the condition, beyond what was reflected in the minutes.
Commissioner Paulson stated that he felt the minutes accurately reflected what was discussed at the meeting, in that the issue was raised and the applicant stated his objection to the condition, however no mention or direction was given by the Planning Commission regarding the condition.
Chairman Lyon read from the minutes the motion to adopt the Resolution and felt the motion indicated the Planning Commission intended to modify the Resolution in accordance with the suggested elevation change.
Commissioner Cartwright stated that as the maker of the original motion, he did not include or consider the roof in the motion. He stated he did have a concern about the roof and had questions he intended to ask.
Commissioner Paulson did not think the Planning Commission specifically addressed the condition in question.
Commissioner Long felt that normally if there was an applicant disagreeing with a condition there would be something in the minutes reflecting what the Commission felt about it.
Chairman Lyon agreed it was an oversight on the part of the Planning Commission not to address that specific concern.
Chairman Lyon opened the public hearing.
Larry Peha 67 14th Street Hermosa Beach stated he was the project architect. He displayed a photo board and stated the center picture was a rendering of the proposed house. He pointed out the different elevations of the roof and foyer area of the proposed residence. He explained that the other pictures on the board were of homes on Palos Verdes Drive South that have flat roofs.
The Commission had a brief discussion on the purpose of this hearing and Commissioner Long stated his interpretation was that if the Planning Commission concludes the condition was properly considered and included, then the Commission should reaffirm their decision via minute order. However, if the Planning Commission concludes that there was or may have been an error then a noticed hearing would be required to actually address the merits of the applicant’s request.
Chairman Lyon asked Mr. Peha if there was any compelling reason he could not comply with the condition.
Mr. Peha stated that the reason they asked for the condition to be deleted was because there was a commanding ocean view from this portion of the house and he would like to design some tall windows in that area. He explained that a sloped roof at that area would cut down on the height of the windows allowed.
Chairman Lyon asked if there was a compromise that could be suggested.
Mr. Peha stated he was concerned about putting something half way there which may look worse.
Chairman Lyon closed the public hearing.
Commissioner Long moved to notice a new public hearing to re-hear item no. 19 only on the basis that the Planning Commission did not intentionally include the condition in the Resolution, based on a review of the minutes, seconded by Commissioner Mueller.
Chairman Lyon felt this was an oversight by the Planning Commission and asked the staff if they knew of any hardship to the applicant if the item were to be renoticed and heard at a subsequent meeting.
Director/Secretary Rojas was not aware of any hardship created other than time. He stated that a condition should not be removed without noticing the interested parties.
Chairman Lyon re-opened the public hearing.
Mr. Peha stated that the Director had mentioned that if the revision was considered minor then there would not be a need for a new public hearing. He asked if this could be considered a minor revision.
Chairman Lyon closed the public hearing.
Director/Secretary Rojas clarified that the Code stated that if the action resulting from this interpretation hearing results in a minor modification, the revision could be done by minute order. He noted that in the staff report, staff recommends that the removal of the condition be considered a substantive revision, thus requiring the condition be brought back at a duly noticed public hearing. He stated that the Commission could determine that this is a minor modification and remove the condition.
Commissioner Lyon asked if there was any reasonable expectation that any member of the public might object to leaving the roof as a flat roof.
Director/Secretary Rojas did not think there was previous public testimony directed at that specific issue.
Chairman Lyon felt this was a relatively minor issue in context with the entire project and felt it should be considered a minor modification.
Commissioner Paulson asked when this would most likely be heard before the Planning Commission if a public hearing were required.
Director/Secretary Rojas stated there was a required 15-day notice period, and since there is only one meeting in December, it would not be heard until January.
Commissioner Cartwright stated that he had a concern about the condition and questioned staff as to why they did not think a flat roof was appropriate.
Senior Planner Mihranian answered that there was a concern with the structure’s visual appearance from Palos Verdes Drive South because of the topography of the lot. He stated that any structure on the lot would be highly visible from Palos Verdes Drive South and that this condition was recommended as a way to soften the structure’s appearance from Palos Verdes Drive South.
Commissioner Mueller stated that he still had several questions for staff regarding the issue but would rather wait and ask those questions at a publicly noticed hearing. He was concerned that there may be members of the public who were concerned about the appearance or neighborhood compatibility of the house who may not be present at this meeting.
Commissioner Long repeated his motion. The motion passed (3-2) with Commissioner Cartwright and Chairman Lyon dissenting.
CONTINUED BUSINESS1. Tentative Tract Map No. 53305, et at: JCC Homes Inc. and California Water Service Company, 5837 Crest Road
Senior Planner Fox presented the staff report. He explained that at the last hearing on October 23 the developer presented a revised project proposal that included smaller homes with lower ridgeline elevations and increased setbacks. Since the last meeting staff has completed the view analysis of the revised silhouettes for the homes, the developer has prepared a landscape plan for the tract, and staff has revised the initial study of draft Mitigated Negative Declaration to reflect the revised project description and the inclusion of the General Plan amendment as part of the proposal. He stated that based upon the revised project, staff believes that none of the homes will create significant view impairment. However, based upon comments by residents staff is recommending the inclusion of a condition that will limit the height of homes. He discussed the landscape plan and suggested amending the conditions of approval regarding the CC&R’s to make specific reference to the homeowners association and the water company respective maintenance responsibilities for landscaping on the site. Mr. Fox explained there was still the apparent inconsistency in the General Plan between the land use designation and the RS-4 zoning designation that has been on the site for many years. Therefore, staff is recommending that the approval of the proposed project would be contingent upon the City Council’s approval of a general plan amendment that would designate the portion of the site proposed for residential development as residential 2 – 4 dwelling units per acre. In conclusion, Mr. Fox stated that staff believes the revised project is consistent with the required findings of approval for the Tentative Tract Map, Conditional Use Permit, and Grading Permit. He noted that the Planning Commission’s action on the application would be advisory only, with final decision to be made by the City Council. As such, the matter is currently agendized for the City Council meeting of December 4. Although staff has prepared draft resolutions for the Commission’s consideration, the Commission is not obligated to take action simply because the matter has already been agendized to the City Council. He stated that staff could reagendize the matter for City Council consideration at a later meeting.
Chairman Lyon opened the public hearing.
Kurt Nelson (representing JCC Homes) 3480 Torrance Blvd., Torrance. He briefly recapped the changes made to the project since starting on September 25. He noted the reduction in the home size, the homes on lots 4, 5, and 6 have been redesigned to become single story residences, increased the side yard setbacks on the easterly boundary to approximately 26 to 28 feet, and lowered the proposed residence on lot 9 by 8 feet to be 16 feet above grade. He felt that he could lower the pad of the lot by another foot, as requested by staff. Mr. Nelson used a display board to show the layout of the proposed project and how it impacts the surrounding neighborhoods. He stated that he had spoken with a representative from California Water Service Company who had indicated they would have no objection to a condition that would require them or them working with the new HOA so that the existing foliage is maintained. He gave a brief overview of the proposed landscape plan and how this landscape would address the view concerns. Mr. Nelson stated that he has provided the revision to the site plan and landscape plan to staff for any residents to review, has met with a number of the homeowners, and has attempted to meet with others.
Craig Webber 950 Santiago Rd., Long Beach stated he was the landscape architect for the project. He distributed a board which he felt better displayed the proposed landscape plan.
Harold Turley 5814 Scotwood Drive stated his objection to the project has been the size and location of the proposed structures. His preference would be for the project to go away, however short of that he stated he would find himself agreeable to the project as it has been modified if two specific issues can be handled to his satisfaction. The first issue was his channel and island view, which is about 30 degrees. He asked that the entire view lane be flagged at the proposed height of 16 feet prior to the approval of the project. He would like to be able to completely see the impact as opposed to trying to guess at it. The second request he made was for a provision for future events that would affect his views, such as trees and shrubs, that may grow to exceed 16 feet. He felt it was important that this be done in such a fashion so that the enforcement not fall to him as the homeowner. He did not want to be burdened with the process of filing papers with the City or having to sue his neighbors.
Chairman Lyon stated there was flagging existing for lots 4, 5, and 6. He asked Mr. Turley what area he was asking be flagged. He stated that the area flagged represents the highest view obstruction and there was no higher ridgeline that was not already flagged.
Mr. Turley did not realize that the existing flagging represented the highest ridgelines.
Leo Lawson 5827 Sunmist Drive stated that the approximate 500 homes in the surrounding area of the project have to use the intermediate school grounds as a park. His concern is now that the school is in use, there is not any green space for use as a park. He proposed the 4.99 acres become a park to service the Rancho Palos Verdes residents of the area. He suggested the California Water Service Company could sell the land at a discount to the City so that the City could then build a park. He distributed photographs taken from his home which showed the ridgelines of the proposed residences. He noted that the land behind his home where these residences were to be built slopes up 35 feet. He stated that adding another 16 feet on the slope will then have him looking at 50 feet of mortar and dirt. He stated the proposed homes look down into his daughter’s bedroom window and plate glass window in the master bathroom. He felt the loss of privacy would result in a loss of property value to his home. He felt the California Water Service Company has violated the public trust that has been held with this community by the inception of the sub-division. He felt the integrity of the reservoir could be compromised by grading and the additional weight of the proposed homes. He did not think the developer had done any geologic studies to ensure the integrity of the reservoir and requested the Commission require the developer do such soil studies to ensure the south wall of the reservoir not be compromised. He felt the 4.99 acres needs to be under the control of the City so that it will be protected against any terrorist attempt to poison the water or affect the integrity of the reservoir. He requested the Planning Commission do a feasibility study researching the possibility of the Water Company selling the 4.99 acres at a discount for the development of a park.
Commissioner Long began by stating that the Planning Commission has no authority to purchase anything. He asked Mr. Lawson if any of the trees in the photograph distributed were on his property.
Mr. Lawson answered that all of the trees were on the California Water Service Company property.
Commissioner Long asked Mr. Lawson what he would do if tomorrow the Water Service Company decided they didn’t want the trees and cut them all down.
Mr. Lawson answered that he would enjoy a view and would not have people peering down into his daughter’s bedroom. He added that he realized the Planning Commission did not have the authority to purchase property, however they did have the ability to present recommendations to the City Council.
Chairman Lyon stated that he did not agree with much of what Mr. Lawson said. He stated the job of the Planning Commission was to address applications before them from the property owner. He stated that no Commissioner had a right to tell a property owner what they wished they would do with the property. He felt the applicant was trying to do everything he could to try to enhance Mr. Lawson’s privacy. He stated that the California Water Service site was at one time a ball field and the reason the ball field was taken away was because of objections from the neighbors in Mesa Palos Verdes to the noise the ball field created. Therefore, he did not agree that a park was a useful addition to the neighborhood.
Commissioner Long added that the Planning Commission has never withheld a permit application in order to compel the property owner to sell the land to the City at a discount, and the suggestion to do so is a very dangerous suggestion.
Commissioner Cartwright asked staff if there has been geologic studies done on the issue of the integrity of the water reservoir.
Senior Planner Fox stated that one of the required elements for a complete application for a subdivision is that there has to be geology reports submitted and approved by the City’s geotechnical consultant. He stated that there were several reports submitted to the City and approved and the city’s consultant has visited the site and is aware of the underground reservoir. He stated that there will be additional geologic reports submitted before any grading or building can begin.
Carolynn Tuttle 29541 Oceanport Road distributed a photograph she had taken to the Planning Commission and stated that her view would be significantly impacted. She stated that the flags up now are only along the top of the front of the ridgeline and do not clearly show how her view will be impacted. She requested that the ridgeline be continued so she could access her view impact. She agreed that lot 9 should be lowered one more foot, but felt it could be lowered even further. She asked about the chimney in the plans and noted that it was now in the position to cause the greatest impact on her view of Catalina. She requested that in addition to flagging the entire ridgeline, the developer also flag where the chimney will be located. She stated she was still very alarmed that the City would considered placing expensive homes on the top of a large water reservoir.
Ray Mathys 5738 Whitecliff Drive stated that an approximate 20-foot landscape buffer was proposed by the applicants to provide a privacy screen between the homes in the proposed development and the existing homes in Mesa Verde that back up to the project. He felt this proposal could work provided that the landscaping is properly and continually maintained in accordance with the approved landscape plan. He stated that in order to do so, the HOA must have the authority to enter onto the land. He stated that the most effective way to do this was to include the 20-foot strip of land located along the east and south side of the tract as part of the common area and owned by the homeowners association. He acknowledged that the problem with this approach was that it would reduce the size of the lot adjoining the common area. Therefore, an easement dedicated to the HOA delineating the bounds of the proposed landscape buffer area that would provide the Association with the right to enter onto the area for maintenance purposes would provide the same assurances that the work could and would be performed. Such an easement would be shown on a recorded tract map and made enforceable through the Conditional Use Permit and the Association recorded legal document.
Linda Navarro 12 Seaview Drive, Rolling Hills Estates, stated she was the president of Seaview Villas HOA and represented 68 homeowners. She explained that the only concern of the HOA was lot 9, which is adjacent to their property. She stated that some of the previous concerns have already been met, however they still requested that the pad be lowered on lot 9 by 2 feet rather than 1 foot. She also requested moving the home 15 feet from the property line rather than the current 10 feet, as it was a privacy issue.
James Demarais stated he was a land use attorney representing some of the homeowners. He noted that there was no current legal action pending and that they were simply trying to work out an amiable solution to the matter. He stated that the zoning was inconsistent with the General Plan. He read a portion of a California Supreme Court case "Planning and zoning law does not contemplate the General Plan to be amended to conform to zoning ordinances. The tail does not wag the dog. The General Plan is a charter to which the ordinances must conform." He further quoted: "The unrestricted amendments of the General Plan to conform to zoning changes destroy the General Plan as a tool for the comprehensive development of the community as a whole." He stated that in this case the General Plan designates the area as Infrastructure Facility. He stated the zoning ordinances zones the area residential. Therefore, he felt the zoning ordinance was invalid and the area was therefore zoned Infrastructure Facility as defined by the General Plan. In addition, he felt the environmental issues were unresolved. Primarily, he noted the reservoir has a history of leakage and he did not think there has been any articulation of the specific steps taken to maintain the integrity of the reservoir. He stated that the according to the geology reports, there seems to be an unresolved issue as to what the conclusion is regarding the integrity of the reservoir. He felt that at this stage, no action should be taken on this project and if any action should be taken it should be that the Planning Commission recommend denial of the project. He added that he had concerns regarding Brown Act issues. He noted that there was a City Council hearing set for this project on December 7 and the Code provides for a 10-day appeal period. He felt due process was being cut down.
Commissioner Long asked Mr. Demarais if the Planning Commission conditions the approval of the project on the City Council adopting an amendment to the General Plan if that would then address his concerns.
Mr. Demarais answered that the approach would address his concerns regarding the zoning inconsistency.
Commissioner Long asked if the specific environmental concern was the proximity of the homes to the reservoir.
Mr. Demarais stated the homeowners particular concern was that at the current time the reservoir was in a potentially dangerous condition and that this project poses a serous threat to the health and safety of the community. He stated he was asking for, at a minimum, a continuance in order to investigate the environmental impact more seriously.
Bob Shirley 29635 Stonecrest Road acknowledged that JCC Homes has made efforts and progress in dealing with height, view, and buffering issues. He did not feel the density and setback issues had been dealt with. He asked the Planning Commission recommend a minimum 1/3 acre or 14,000 square foot lots so that the houses will not have the appearance of a Torrance Anastasi type of project. He proposed a recommendation be made to enforce the RS-4 setback requirements so the houses will not be right on top of one another. He stated that when the developer reduced the house size to single story he effectively increased the foundation size because all of the living space is now on a single story. He also felt that the developer’s environmental investigation was incomplete and inadequate at this time. He was very concerned with the loss of his privacy and property value. He further felt that the construction noise and dirt would be intolerable to the surrounding neighborhoods.
Charles Joo 5840 Scotwood Drive also acknowledged the willingness of JCC Homes to work with the neighbors. However, he felt more time was needed for the neighbors and JCC homes to work out some of the outstanding issues and asked that the Planning Commission continue the item to a later date.
Commissioner Cartwright asked Mr. Joo what specific issues he felt needed to be addressed.
Mr. Joo answered that privacy issues, decrease in property values, and inconsistent zoning.
Commissioner Cartwright asked Mr. Joo to point out where his home was located.
Mr. Joo stated that his home was right next to lot 9.
Commissioner Cartwright asked Mr. Joo what his specific issues were.
Mr. Joo responded that he had privacy issues concerning the project. He stated that from his second story window he currently overlooked a vacant lot with little traffic.
Commissioner Long felt that Mr. Joo looked out over a tarred over area with carports and pipes and a lot of trucks entering and leaving the property. He wondered if having a home next to him would be more objectionable and cause more traffic.
Mr. Joo stated he did not mind the trucks coming in for the purpose of parking and that was limited to certain hours.
Commissioner Cartwright asked Mr. Joo what he would like to see done that would ensure his privacy.
Mr. Joo stated that he was not arguing the right of the developer to build on their property. He was simply stating that he was used to having a vacant lot next to him. He stated he has a swimming pool that is right next to the proposed private driveway, which concerned him.
Commissioner Cartwright stated that there was nothing the Commission could do other than eliminate the private road that would satisfy Mr. Joo’s concerns.
Mr. Joo stated that eliminating the road would satisfy his concerns but he did not know if that would satisfy his neighbor’s concerns.
Lois Larue 3136 Barkentine Road stated she opposed the development of 10 lots on 4.99 acres. She did not think there was adequate room to build 10 lots on the site. She asked the Planning Commissioners to be visionaries and not approve the project.
Greg Johnson 29643 Stonecrest Road indicated on the map where his property was located and felt that there was not enough room between his house and the proposed houses that back up to Stonecrest. He was concerned with privacy, screening, and property values.
Commissioner Paulson asked Mr. Johnson what the separation was between his home and his neighbor to the side.
Mr. Johnson estimated approximately 30 feet. He noted that he does not enjoy his yard from the side yard but rather the backyard, which he considered his living space.
RECESS AND RECONVENE
At 9:50 p.m. the Planning Commission took a short recess to 10:00 p.m. at which time they reconvened.
CONTINUED BUSINESS (CONT)
Kurt Nelson (in rebuttal) discussed the chimney in relationship to Mrs. Tuttle’s home. He stated he was willing to lower the grade of the pad an additional foot and the chimney could be lowered or placed in a location as long as it complied with the building code. He stated he would work with Mrs. Tuttle regarding the chimney. Regarding the issue of the reservoir, he stated he would like to have Mr. Jensen from California Water Service address those issue. He felt there had been a thorough review of the reservoir and added that he would not begin the project until all additional soils testing is done in association with the grading and foundations of the residences.
Commissioner Paulson asked if there was any cut involved on the slopes on the back property lines of lots 4, 5, and 6.
Mr. Nelson responded that to his knowledge there would be no cut at that area. Mr. Nelson stated he would address the privacy issues with Mr. Lawson but felt his landscape plan would provide a permanent screening. Regarding the zoning issue, Mr. Nelson felt that Commissioner Long’s suggestion to condition the approval contingent upon the City Council’s determination of a General Plan amendment was a good suggestion. He thanked Mr. Mathys for his suggestions and felt a dedication easement with enforcement rights was something that could and most likely would happen. He stated that he would be willing to lower the pad of lot 9 one more foot, but only if it was considered necessary. Mr. Nelson stated that the only setback exception he was requesting was between two of his own houses. He noted that in every other area he met or exceeded percentages of coverage and setbacks. He stated that if Mr. Johnson has room on his property, he would be more than willing to plant a big box tree so that he can be comfortable. Mr. Nelson concluded by asking the Planning Commission make a decision on his project, one way or another, at this meeting.
Don Jensen stated he was the District Manager for the California Water Service Company stated that there are currently 2 reservoirs underground at the site. He stated that the walls of the reservoirs were built up to 24 inches in thickness and the life expectancy of these types of structures are measured in half centuries. He also noted that the reservoir was never filled above 95 percent or let below 45 percent. He stated that as a professional he had no problem with the structural integrity of the reservoirs.
Commissioner Cartwright asked when the reservoir was built.
Mr. Jensen responded that the reservoir was built in 1965.
Commission Cartwright asked if there had ever been a situation at the site where the integrity of the reservoir had been compromised.
Mr. Jensen answered that there had not been any problems to his knowledge. He added that there was a maintenance program in place and the reservoir was inspected annually.
Commissioner Cartwright asked if there were other reservoirs of this type on the peninsula.
Mr. Jensen answered that there was one near the FAA radar site.
Chairman Lyon closed the public hearing.
Commissioner Paulson asked if reducing the pad of lot 9 an additional foot and changing the location of the chimney would address the concerns of the affected residents.
Senior Planner Fox did not think the chimney had any affect on the homes in Rolling Hills Estates. He stated that staff had visited the site and did not think there was much potential for privacy infringement, however lowering the lot one foot couldn’t hurt. He did not think that lowering the lot 2 feet would allow much more gain for those residents. With respect to the other side, he stated that the structure currently proposed was 16 feet in height, but in the interest of minimizing any potential view impairment it seems reducing the pad lot one foot would be enough to pull the ridgeline down to the point where it was essentially at the water line of Catalina Island and there would be no view impairment on Catalina. He stated that 2 feet would be better, but one foot would allow a clear view of the island. Regarding the chimney, he stated that it appeared rather large on the plans and by doing a quick scaling of the plans he felt the chimney may be lowered by as much as four feet and still comply with the building code requirements.
Commissioner Paulson asked about the idea of a common area and the homeowner’s association control over landscape maintenance and if this had been done in any other developments in the City.
Director/Secretary Rojas answered that he believed it had been done for the Island View tract and it has been successful.
Commissioner Paulson asked if all of the proposed homes were within their required lot coverage.
Senior Planner Fox answered that all of the lots were with the required lot coverage, which is 50 percent.
Chairman Lyon felt that staff recommendations for the proposed project made a lot of sense. He felt the applicant has worked very hard to accommodate the requests of the neighbors. He felt there had been a number of requests, some of which were very reasonable and some of which are not reasonable. He stated the developer had done a good job in trying to do what he could to make this development compatible with the area. He stated that everyone gets used to living in an area that has certain features, but people have a right to develop their property. He understood that it is very disappointing to lose a view, however the City has a code that is very specific on what is a protected view and the Planning Commission is obligated to follow that code. He felt there were no violations to that code in this proposed development and everything seemed to be reasonable and within the code.
Commissioner Long also supported the staff’s recommendation. He felt that all requirements needed for the Planning Commission to issue a permit have been met. He stated that if there was an issue where someone felt the density of the development was inappropriate, the Planning Commission does not have the authority to change the zoning and change the density of the development. In particular, he stated that the Commission cannot improperly and unreasonably withhold approval from the property owner for the purpose of essentially extorting the property owner into selling the property to the City at a discount. He felt that this particular developer has been one of the most cooperative before the Commission. He acknowledged that the developer could not meet all of everyone’s concerns, however he has met all of the concerns that this Commission has the power to make him meet.
Commissioner Cartwright commended the applicant for working with the neighbors and the Commission and agreed with the comments of Chairman Lyon and Commissioner Long. He stated that revised plans show the house sizes have been significantly reduced, all of the two-story homes have been changed to single-story homes, the setbacks have been significantly increased, and the landscape plans call for retention of mature foliage where possible and to add additional plantings to ensure privacy. That, along with the staff recommendation to limit the height of the chimney, to require foliage be maintained at a maximum of 8 feet, and to regulate the HOA to maintain foliage convinced Mr. Cartwright that the development meets the findings for a tract map, a Conditional Use Permit, and a Grading Permit. He wanted to make sure, however, that the Planning Commission conditions the approval so that the pad on lot 9 is lowered an additional foot and the planting along the south side is sufficient to screen the homes and the foliage is maintained at the specified height.
Commissioner Mueller stated he was initially concerned with the lot density issue, but realized there was nothing the Planning Commission could do based on the fact that it met the RS-4 criteria. He too felt the developer made a concerted effort to address that issue in a different way, perhaps, than what the neighbors might think is the best way. However, he felt the proposed plan best serves the immediate neighborhood. He felt some of the setbacks might be a little small, but again they were within the standards of the development code. He was pleased that the developer was willing to lower the pad by one foot on lot 9, which would help alleviate some of the concerns of the immediate neighbors.
Commissioner Paulson complimented the developer on being responsive once the issues had been brought to his attention. However, he felt if the developer had talked with the property owners before he filed the application there may not have been the need for three hearings. He stated his concerns were addressed as long as the right conditions were included that guarantee the issue of protection of privacy at the time of installation of trees at both the south and east side of the project.
Commissioner Cartwright moved to adopt P.C. Resolution No. 2001-44 recommending adoption of a Mitigated Negative Declaration and adopt P.C. Resolution NO. 2001-45 thereby approving the staff recommendations with the following conditions: Lower the pad on lot 9 by one foot, ensure the trees that are planted on the south and east side of the project are sufficient to provide adequate privacy at the time of installation, and an easement on the property that will be conditioned to ensure that the homeowners association has access to maintain the landscaping.
Commissioner Long referred to page 15, condition no. 25, and felt that a reference should be added that the landscaping plans will also take into account view concerns by selecting from the trees or plantings recommended by the city as appropriate and as reviewed and approved by the Director. He also felt that compliance with the CC&R’s should be incorporated into the conditions of approval.
Commissioner Cartwright agreed to the revisions to the motion.
Commissioner Long seconded the motion. The motion passed, (5-0).
2. Coastal Permit No. 170/172 and Grading Permit No. 2260/2281: Eric Johnson (owner) 2 Yacht Harbor Drive
Senior Planner Fox presented the staff report. He described the revised project, noting that the size of the project was now smaller, the maximum ridgeline of the house has been lowered two feet, and the entire house has been slightly realigned on the site. He noted that a portion of the detached garage would encroach into the required 20-foot front setback from the realigned roadway. Therefore, staff recommended the Commission require the garage be modified to meet the 20-foot setback imposed. He stated that the total grading quantity has decreased overall, however the amount of export has remained about the same. Mr. Fox stated that staff has reassessed the previous analysis of view impacts of the project based upon the silhouette and with respect to public views from Palos Verdes Drive South the revised residence would encroach a maximum of approximately 3 feet into the 2-degree down arc zone discussed in the City’s Coastal Specific Plan. However, the revised structure is also below the 16-foot height limit. He explained that the City has generally permitted structures that are not within a specific view corridor and comply with the 16-foot height limit to encroach into the 2 degree down arc zone. He stated that staff believes the public views for motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians will not be significantly impaired by the revised project. Mr. Fox stated that the proposed project was now at 10-feet above finished grade, which is 6 feet lower than the 16 foot height limit. He stated that the structure would block some portions of the private ocean views from homes in the Seaview community; staff did not feel it was tall enough to encroach into the view of Catalina Island. Therefore staff believes that the revised project and related structures will not adversely affect the use of neighboring properties any more significantly than a 16-foot tall structure would. Addressing the issue as to whether or not the project would require a height variation, Mr. Fox explained that in every case both with and without the road realignment and measured from existing or proposed finished grade the revised project does not exceed the 16-foot height limit on either an upslope or downslope lot. Therefore, it was staff’s position that a height variation was not required for the project. He explained that staff expanded the comparison of the development intensity and neighborhood compatibility of the project to include only the truly useable area of the flat upper portion of the site. Considering the significantly larger lot size, the scale of the proposed house in proportion to the lot is still about the same as those in the surrounding neighborhoods. In addition, the revised house is still set well apart from the surrounding neighborhood so bulk and mass does not seem in direct context with surrounding homes. Therefore, staff believes the revised project is compatible with the scale and character of surrounding neighborhoods. He stated that staff believes all required findings can be made for the Coastal Permit and Grading Permit and therefore recommends approval of the project.
Commissioner Cartwright asked if neighborhood compatibility was a required finding for this project.
Senior Planner Fox stated that it was a finding required for the Grading Permit.
Chairman Lyon opened the public hearing.
Eric Johnson (applicant) 92 Yacht Harbor Drive explained that after listening to the concerns of the neighbors and the Planning Commission it was clear that the major issues were the overall mass of the house and height of the structure. He felt that the revised project addressed these concerns. He was not sure what else they could do with this proposal. He stated he was willing to move the garage out of the setback area. Mr. Johnson stated he and his architect have worked very hard to minimize impacts, accommodate concerns, and to provide a proposal which was completely conforming to the rules of the City.
Ted McCowan 4212 Admirable Drive stated that he was never too concerned about how the project would impact him until the silhouette was erected at the site. He explained that he has a view of Catalina Island as well as a view of the entire Portuguese Bend Cove. He stated that the flags indicate that the guesthouse will completely block his view of the cove. He felt the guesthouse could be moved slightly or lowered, as it appears to be a two-story structure.
Commissioner Cartwright asked Mr. McCowan if the Transamerica project would have blocked any portion of his view.
Mr. McCowan responded that he never determined if the project would block his view or not.
Debbie Huff 4245 Palos Verdes Drive South stated that the guesthouse, which is the closest to Palos Verdes Drive South. She did not understand the rational as to why the maximum height of the structure could change when the location of the structure changed. She discussed landscaping and felt that there were currently many trees and shrubs on the property over 16-feet in height. She also stated that as she walks along Palos Verdes Drive South the entire amount of the water between the cliffs and Catalina Island would no longer be visible to the public. She noted that once the Ocean Trails houses are built that ocean area would also be blocked. To alleviate some of the concerns of the neighborhood she suggested changing the zoning to RSA-5, which is one house per five acres, which seems to be more appropriate for this site. She also suggested that there were extremely attractive tax benefits available that are offered to those putting land aside in perpetuity as open space.
Diane Weinberger 4206 Exultant Drive stated she was president of the Seaview Residents Association. She stated that she was representing residents who had major concerns over vegetation. She felt there was a lot of vegetation on the lot that should have been trimmed over the years that is causing view impacts. She requested that if the project is approved the vegetation is held to very strict minimums to be as low as possible.
Eloise Radford 135 Seawall Road stated she was in favor of the project. She stated that if she were in the position of having that piece of property and the means to develop it, she would hope that she would do as the Johnsons have done and work closely with the neighbors and build something very desirable in the neighborhood. She felt the Johnsons have given quite a bit and it was now time for the neighborhood to allow the Johnsons to start their project. She stated that there would never be 100 percent fulfillment on everyone’s part. She felt the neighbors had to always realize that something would eventually be built on this vacant lot.
Cathy French 4235 Palos Verdes Drive South stated that the guesthouse obscures a major portion of the cove view from her residence. She stated that since it was a guesthouse, she wondered why it couldn’t be lowered. She also felt that lowering the height of the guesthouse would substantially improve the view from Palos Verdes Drive South for the general public. She also discussed the vegetation and she too asked there be some condition of approval to keep the vegetation on the property as low as possible. She asked that there be some type of direct oversight during the building process to verify the grading height and pads before the structure is built. Finally, Ms. French stated that she was trusting the Johnsons integrity and character that what was being built on that property today was all that was being built there. She stated that she was loosing a substantial part of her view and did not want to loose more of it through a false sense of security that more could be built.
Cory Johnson 92 Yacht Harbor Drive stated he was in favor of the project. He stated that his family has reduced the size of the house by quite a bit, and his bedroom has already been cut in half. He stated he would like to live in his new house before he leaves for college.
Jill Carlton 4265 Palos Verdes Drive South stated she was grateful for the work the Johnsons have done to try to minimize the view impacts from the surrounding neighborhood. She stated that she had concerns regarding the vegetation on the property. She stated that she would prefer to have the view through of a chain link fence without the pilasters that have been recommended by staff.
Commissioner Cartwright asked staff what the maximum height of shrubbery was as defined by the code.
Senior Planner Fox stated that any foliage was allowed to grow to a height of 16 feet. He pointed out that in condition no. 20, with respect to the fencing along Palos Verdes Drive South, it specifically says that hedges and solid walls are not permitted. Condition No. 21 also limits the height of the trees and foliage to no more than 16 feet or the highest point of the structure, whichever is lower.
Commissioner Cartwright stated there were many ridgelines on this property and asked which one prevailed.
Senior Planner Fox answered that it would be the highest ridgeline, which is 228, the ridgeline of the main house.
Steve Carlton 4265 Palos Verdes Drive South stated that the new proposal has the main house moved back to attach with what is now the study, and wondered if had the main house had stayed closer to the original area and the new study moved slightly, if the new ridgeline would have dropped from 228 to possible 226 or 225. He stated that the importance of the height of the ridgeline was that the foliage was allowed to grow to 16 feet or the ridgeline of 228. He stated that it would only take a 3 to 5 foot bush on the west side of the property near Palos Verdes Drive South to totally obliterate the lighthouse, Long Point, and Abalone Cove. He noted that was why it was important to have specific conditions included regarding landscaping and foliage.
Lenee Bilski 4255 Palos Verdes Drive South asked the Commission not to decide this matter this evening, but to continue the public hearing. She stated that from her home she could look out across the site to the scrub along the very edge of the cliff. She stated it was very difficult to see the actual topographical map and the feet above mean high tide. She asked for a map of the natural grade so that she could more easily determine what the grade actually was, when the survey was done, what scale was used and what the reference points were for the natural grade. She was very concerned about the public view impairments and noted that the General Plan divides visual aspects into views and vistas. She stated that the staff made their recommendation based on vista corridors, but she explained that views could be continuous as viewed from along a public corridor. She stated that views have a broad focal point which has unlimited arc and depth. She discussed the Coastal Specific Plan and its discussion of view corridors. She felt that there was a public viewing point from all along Palos Verdes Drive South that should be protected.
Commissioner Paulson asked Ms. Bilski how she would like to see the property developed.
Ms. Bilski responded that there was enough property to develop it so that it wouldn’t block the public views as much as the flagging makes it visually apparent that it does. She felt the house could be adjusted and moved back toward Palos Verdes Drive South and possible tilted in a different direction.
Chairman Lyon stated that staff recommends compliance with the 20-foot setback from the street, which would require Mr. Johnson to move the subterranean garage slightly. He asked Mr. Johnson if that would be a problem.
Mr. Johnson stated that was not something he had studied, but felt it could be accomplished.
Chairman Lyon felt the garage was entirely underground and therefore was a subterranean garage in a setback area, and therefore did not require a Variance.
Director/Secretary Rojas stated that according to the Development Code, structures that are completely subterranean do not have to meet the setbacks. In looking at the garage objectively, staff could not make the determination that the garage was completely subterranean. The Planning Commission could, however disagree and take the position that the garage is substantially subterranean and does not have to meet the setbacks.
Chairman Lyon did not think there was any impact on anything exterior, whether in the setback area or not, and could not see any practical objection to encroaching into the setback area.
Commissioner Long asked Mr. Johnson if he would be agreeable to some sort of condition designed to protect the neighbors concerns regarding views such as a condition that all foliage be maintained at an elevation of 226 or below.
Mr. Johnson answered that he would be more than happy to agree not to plant anything along Palos Verdes Drive South. He stated that he had not yet worked out a landscape plan and expressed concern that he not be treated any differently than any other applicant in the City and their rights to landscape. He explained that his intent in landscaping was to actually open up area and have some areas with trees. He stated that he would like to have a few trees on the property.
Commissioner Mueller asked about the function of the fence along Palos Verdes Drive South and if Mr. Johnson was required to maintain that fence.
Mr. Johnson answered that the fence serves as security for the gated community at the Portuguese Bend Club. He stated he was obligated to maintain the fence.
Commissioner Mueller asked if was possible to maintain the security for the Portuguese Bend Club at a lower elevation, further down on the property.
Mr. Johnson felt it might be possible to drop the fence down lower on the site. He stated he would do everything possible to make the fence as low as possible and still maintain the integrity of the private community. He stated he would be very hesitant to agree to something specific without having consulted his Portuguese Bend Club neighbors.
Chairman Lyon closed the public hearing.
Commissioner Paulson asked about the 16-foot high guesthouse and why that was allowed.
Senior Planner Fox answered that the Code allows for a guesthouse to be 16-feet in height. He stated that there had not been a significant change in the actual configuration of the structure itself, rather the use of the structure had changed. He stated that the actual structure had only increased in height by six inches.
Commissioner Paulson was concerned about how to construct a condition regarding the height of vegetation that was responsive to the concerns of the neighbors yet was not unduly restrictive for the property owner.
Commissioner Long suggested a condition that stated that no new foliage should grow in excess of 16 feet.
Commissioner Paulson asked if there was any way to reorient the placement of the guesthouse that would reduce the massing and reduce the view impairments from the neighboring properties
Chairman Lyon re-opened the public hearing.
Mr. Johnson felt that reorientation for the guesthouse was possible, but was concerned that reorienting the guesthouse may transfer any view impairment from one property to another.
Chairman Lyon closed the public hearing.
Chairman Lyon felt the current proposal presented a reasonable balance between preserving the views of the neighbors and retaining a view and the aesthetics of the project.
Commissioner Cartwright agreed that the last to build has the same rights as the first to build. He stated that there was no way to build on this property without affecting somebody’s views and this was not a view corridor. He felt that what was being proposed was far superior to what was previously approved for Transamerica.
Chairman Lyon asked if the project as currently proposed violated any of the development code requirements.
Senior Planner Fox stated that the currently proposed project met all required standards of the Development Code.
Commissioner Long was convinced that the view impairment would not be significant, given the overall development, provided that certain conditions were imposed. However, he was concerned with the required finding that for new single-family residences the grading and/or related construction is compatible with immediate neighborhood characteristics. He then discussed how neighborhood characteristics were defined in the Development Code Section 17.02.04a6. He felt that the characteristics regarding front yard setbacks were satisfied and did not believe the requirement for compatible architectural styles and materials was satisfied and he was not convinced that the house was compatible in regards to scale. He asked if staff had ever looked at homes on both sides of a major arterial when considering neighborhood compatibility.
Commissioner Cartwright stated he was not having a problem with the neighborhood compatibility issue. He felt there was some practical limit to what was compatible. He felt that if the nearest residence was 1,000 feet away that it may not necessarily be considered to be in the immediate neighborhood when considering neighborhood compatibility. Further, he did not feel there was any consistency in the residences in Portuguese Bend.
Director/Secretary Rojas recalled a similar property on Palos Verdes Drive West adjacent to the Lunada Point development where there was a very large home proposed. He explained that since there were no large homes adjacent to it staff did compare it with homes across Palos Verdes Drive West.
Commissioner Paulson stated that he found it hard to believe that the residents on Palos Verdes Drive South would rather see a subdivision developed on the lot with the approximate same size structures developed on the lot. He stated that he would hate to say that the Planning Commission was not going to approve the project because of neighborhood compatibility with some scenario that was illogical.
Commissioner Long felt that Commissioners Paulson and Cartwright were basically saying that this proposal was in a neighborhood of one and he was not necessarily disagreeing with that statement.
Chairman Lyon moved to adopt P.C. Resolution No. 2001-46 thereby approving Coastal Permit No. 170/172 and Grading Permit No. 2260/2281 as presented by staff with the following modifications: 1) Add to Condition No. 20 the requirement that new vegetation shall not significantly impair views from surrounding properties; and, 2) Amend the condition to say that the above ground portion of the garage shall comply with the 20-foot front yard setback.
Commissioner Mueller noted that one of the findings for the Coastal Permit was that new development should be required to provide public access from Palos Verdes Drive South to the shoreline. He asked why this new development was not required to provide public access to the beach.
Senior Planner Fox explained that there is an exception to the public access requirement when public access is provided nearby. He stated that there was public access to the ocean from Ocean Trails and there was public access available to all City property to the west at Sacred Cove and Abalone Cove Beach Park.
Commissioner Paulson discussed the fencing along Palos Verdes Drive South and the proposed pilasters and if the fence should remain as conditioned in the staff report.
Commissioner Mueller felt that pilasters should be prohibited along the fence.
Chairman Lyon agreed to the amendment that no pilasters will allowed in the fence along Palos Verdes Drive West.
Commissioner Cartwright seconded he motion. The motion passed (5-0).
Commissioner Long explained that his vote in no way set any sort of precedent, as he concluded that this house was in a neighborhood of one.
The meeting was adjourned at 12:40 a.m.