FEBRUARY 12, 2002
CALL TO ORDER
The meeting was called to order by Chairman Lyon at 7:05 p.m. at the Fred Hesse Community Room, 29301 Hawthorne Boulevard.
Commissioner Cartwright led the assembly in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Also present were Director of Planning, Building, and Code Enforcement Rojas, Assistant Planner Yu, and Recording Secretary Peterson.
APPROVAL OF AGENDA
Without objection, the agenda was approved as presented.
Director/Secretary Rojas discussed a "Livable Communities" Conference in Torrance on February 28 that was open to all Planning Commissioners to attend. He also explained that the Planning Commission meeting of March 12, 2002 would be a joint scoping meeting with the Traffic Committee for the forthcoming Marymount College EIR.
1. Minutes of January 22, 2002
Commissioner Cartwright clarified his statement on page 7 of the minutes.
Chairman Lyon noted a typo on page 10 of the minutes.
The minutes were approved, as amended, (5-0).
2. Height Variation Permit No. 938: Jeffrey and Laurie Younggren 4362 Exultant Drive.
Assistant Planner Yu presented the staff report. She explained the scope of the project and noted that the applicant had, in order to address concerns raised by the Planning Commission and staff, revised the plan and moved the addition back from the front property line. They also proposed a hip roof rather than a gable roof and lowered the front ridgeline. She explained that, at the request of the Planning Commission, staff included other homes in the Seaview neighborhood when considering neighborhood compatibility. She stated that staff found the scale, bulk and mass, and design of the proposed project compatible with other homes found in the expanded neighborhood. Staff also analyzed the proposed second story addition in relation to the down slope lots and found the proposed second story addition would not overwhelm the down slope lots as it would be set back 34 feet from the rear property line. Further, staff did not feel the second story addition would result in an unreasonable infringement of privacy. Staff, however still felt that views from 4343 Dauntless Drive would be significantly impaired. Therefore, staff was recommending denial of Height Variation No. 938.
Commissioner Long asked if there had been any discussion between staff and the applicant to see if anything further could be done to minimize the view impact from 4343 Dauntless Drive.
Assistant Planner Yu stated that staff had suggested some design changes to the applicant.
Commissioner Long did not feel there was any change in the view impairment when comparing the previous proposal with the new proposal.
Director/Secretary Rojas stated that in comparing photographs of the previous view frame with the current frame there was a difference, however it was very minor. Because the difference was so minor, staff felt the view impairment was still significant.
Commissioner Cartwright asked if the current second story proposal was lower than the original proposal.
Assistant Planner Yu answered that the current plan shows the front portion of the ridge to be lower by two feet, however the rear portion was the same height as previously proposed.
Commissioner Mueller asked if staff wanted the applicant to lower the height of the ridgeline or move the second story further back on the house.
Assistant Planner Yu responded that staff recommended moving the second story further back.
Commissioner Cartwright asked if, at the last meeting, the guidance given by the Planning Commission to the applicant was to both lower the ridgeline and move the second story addition back.
Director/Secretary Rojas confirmed that the direction given was to do both and referenced the minutes from the meeting. He explained that the applicant had lowered the ridgeline and moved the second story addition back, however it was not enough to make a difference on the view impact.
Chairman Lyon did not feel it was appropriate for the Planning Commission to redesign the project. He felt the applicant was entitled to request what they wanted and it was the Planning Commission’s duty to see if that request interferes with the rights of any other property owners or the City’s codes.
Chairman Lyon opened the public hearing.
Gary Lane 500 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach, stated he was the architect for the project. He explained that he has reduced the square footage of the project by approximately 200 square feet, set the building back nine feet on the second floor and three feet on the first floor, lowered the ridgeline two feet, and changed the roof from a gable roof to a hip roof to soften the look and reduce the mass. He felt this was a significant change from the original plans. He understood that view impairment was the issue that concerned the Planning Commission but noted that there had been no objections from the neighbors regarding the proposal. He felt that the view that was being blocked had a portion that was currently being obstructed by trees. Further, he felt that view obstruction could be interpreted differently depending on the angle of view.
Commissioner Vannorsdall stated that he had previously suggested rotating the ridgeline ninety degrees. He asked the architect if he had considered that.
Mr. Lane responded that he had considered the ridgeline at many different angles, however he felt that changing the ridgeline took away the softening and blending between the first and second floors.
Jeff Younggren 4362 Exultant Drive (owner) stated that he had attempted to comply, as much as possible, with the direction given by the Planning Commission at the previous meeting. He stated that he had been under the assumption after the last meeting that with minor adjustments to the plans he would have the support of staff. He explained that he had made the adjustments requested, which he did not consider minor. He displayed photographs he had taken of his home and the view from 4343 Dauntless Drive. He felt that the photographs showed that there was some degradation of the view from 4343 Dauntless, however that view impairment was not significant. He also pointed out that the foliage in the neighborhood has grown significantly in the past 30 to 40 years and a majority of residents have lost up to 60 percent of their views from that foliage.
Commissioner Cartwright felt the issue before the Planning Commission was not neighborhood compatibility but rather a height variation, and therefore it was not clear to him what weight the Commission should place on the neighbors’ agreeing that what has been done was the right thing in terms of view impairment. He asked Mr. Younggren what alternatives he looked at, other than what was currently being proposed, to minimize the view impairment and the concerns of the Planning Commission. He also asked Mr. Younggren to address the counter proposal offered by the staff.
Mr. Younggren responded that he had left the previous meeting with the impression that he was to modify the project in accordance with the suggestions, which was what he had done. He stated that the layout of the home does not allow a lot of possible expansions that make sense in terms of the design of the property. He stated he wanted to develop the south end of the home so that there would be a study and master bedroom suite. He felt that tacking this addition on to the western end of the home would be an imposition on the homes below, as the addition would be toward the very edge of the property. He stated that he was not aware there was a proposal from staff until they had recently met with staff. He stated that it was a decision regarding the design of the addition. He felt that his recent proposal represented a moderate compromise. He did not know where an addition could be put that wouldn’t be very spread out and dwarf the lot.
Commissioner Cartwright asked if Mr. Younggren felt he could push the addition back so that the ridgeline was behind the existing ridgeline.
Mr. Younggren answered that he would not be able to have his master bedroom suite if he did that.
Diane Weinberger 4206 Exultant Drive stated she was president of the Seaview Residents Association. She stated that she had not met the Younggrens prior to December when they were going through the initial hearings before the Planning Commission. She stated that she was an unbiased speaker representing the Seaview subdivision and stating her opinion as a concerned citizen of Rancho Palos Verdes. She indicated that she had read the staff report and noted that staff had found view impairment from only one property, 4343 Dauntless Drive. She stated that she walked the entire project and walked the entire perimeter at 4343 Dauntless Drive, and she disagreed with staff’s finding of view impairment. She did not feel the view impairment was significant, and pointed out that 4343 Dauntless Drive has a large improvement above their garage that was much larger than the Younggren’s proposal. She also noted that there was a wall of trees obstructing the view from 4343 Dauntless Drive. Ms. Weinberger noted a project at 4040 Admirable Drive, completed last fall that has a similar façade and is affecting more views from more homes than the Younggren’s project. She also noted the projects approved at 1 Yacht Harbor and 4005 Admirable Drive which impacted several views and felt that there was something unfair about not approving the Younggren’s project which only impacts one view. She felt the Younggrens had significantly modified their plans and moved their addition far enough back on the property that it was not obtrusive from the street. She requested the Planning Commission approve the project, as amended, as the project would be an asset to the Seaview subdivision.
Commissioner Cartwright repeated that this was not a neighborhood compatibility issue, but rather a height variation issue. He noted that the project at 1 Yacht Harbor was not a height variation issue and was not applicable in comparing the two projects. Commissioner Cartwright stated that part of the concern was the cumulative affect that may happen if this scenario were played out on the rest of the street. He asked Mr. Younggren to respond to that concern.
Mr. Younggren He also stated that view impacts affect one or two people, and generally do not affect many people. He stated that this second story addition was in a resident’s protected view corridor, and noted that a height variation does not allow for a second story to be built that significantly impacts the view from any property.
Ms. Weinberger stated that if the addition were to remain single story and the Younggrens took advantage of their maximum lot coverage, the views of more people would be significantly impacted. She referred to the many homes in the subdivision that had a second story addition over the garage.
Commissioner Long stated that a height variation application requires a finding be made that there would be no significant impairment of views, and the Planning Commission does not have the power to ignore the ordinance. He further stated that whether or not the Commission may have misapplied the ordinance on a previous application would not persuade him to misapply the ordinance now. He also noted that these other second story additions in the neighborhood may or may not have needed a height variation.
Commissioner Cartwright asked Ms. Weinberger if she was in disagreement with the Height Variation code that addresses the issue of protection of views, or was she concerned with the staff’s interpretation that this was a significant view impairment.
Ms. Weinberger answered that she was definitely in disagreement with staff’s opinion and she may have some concern over the ordinance.
Chairman Lyon closed the public hearing.
Chairman Lyon began the discussion by stating the issue was whether or not the obstruction of view was significant. He stated that when standing at 4343 Dauntless Drive he saw a horizontal arc of 60 to 70 degrees that comprises the view, which was largely of Catalina and the ocean. He stated that the view was currently significantly obstructed by foliage. He also felt that of the 60 to 70 degree arc that constituted the view, this proposal would only obstruct approximately 10 percent of the total view. Further, of that 10 percent there was a tree that was already obscuring a portion of that view. Therefore, he felt that the extent to which the modified proposal obscures the remaining view of the ocean was quite insignificant. He felt the modification made by the applicant was a sincere attempt to address the issues the Commission raised. He did not object to the project as modified by the applicant.
Commissioner Vannorsdall was concerned about the cumulative impacts. He felt the Planning Commission should expect these types of applications in this neighborhood as the lots could support larger homes and the needs of families were growing. He felt the Commission was going to have to approve these applications, simply for economics. He felt a 1,200 square foot home on a half million-dollar lot was completely out of balance with realism. He felt there must be a house proportional to the value of the lot, and the only way to achieve this was by allowing expansion to the home.
Commissioner Long began with neighborhood compatibility. He was not persuaded, based on going through the neighborhood, that the houses in the expanded neighborhood shown in Table 3 of the staff report were relevant. Therefore, he focused on the houses in the original neighborhood shown on Table 2. Comparing the house with Table 2, he saw that this would be the first house in the neighborhood that will be 2 stories and will end up being approximately 70 percent larger than average and increase its own size by approximately 70 percent. He also noted that none of the houses in Table 2 were two-story homes. Commissioner Long noted that Table 3 included a number of homes that are more distant and there were a great number of two-story homes. He also noted that this home would only be approximately 15 percent larger than the average home on Table 3. He was troubled that the homes on Table 3 were not the homes that were nearby and were elsewhere in the neighborhood. Therefore, he was not convinced the proposal was compatible. However, if he overcame that he was still not convinced that, for a height variation permit, that this proposal has been designed so as to minimize impairment of views. He felt that other than looking at limited suggestions and doing a portion of what staff suggested, the applicant didn’t consider anything else. He felt that the view impairment was significant and he was inclined to oppose the project in its current form. He stated he was more troubled by the neighborhood compatibility issue than the view issue. He felt that further relatively minor changes could deal with the view issue but was not sure if the same was true with the compatibility issue.
Commissioner Mueller agreed that Table 3 of the staff report did not apply in this situation and the neighborhood compatibility should be compared to the 10 closest homes in the neighborhood. Regarding the view issue, he felt this was a view corridor issue since the view from 4343 Dauntless was across and down the street and he felt the street would be there for some time. He did not think the foliage was relevant because foliage was not intended to be permanent and that if there was significant view impairment from the foliage there was an ordinance that covers that situation. He stated he supported the staff recommendation because he felt there were small changes needed to protect the view and he did not think proper alternatives had been presented to the Planning Commission that would help save the view from 4343 Dauntless Drive.
Commissioner Cartwright stated that neighborhood compatibility was originally a concern of his, however in traveling around the neighborhood he saw other structures that had additions that were very similar in style, size, and mass. He therefore felt this was a neighborhood in transition and there were going to be these types of additions that were going to appear on a block that hasn’t yet been affected by this transition. Therefore, he could agree that neighborhood compatibility was not an issue. He did however have a concern regarding the view. He explained that he tried to put himself in the position of the owner of 4343 Dauntless Drive and in doing so he felt that this addition would cause a significant view obstruction. He was also very troubled by the potential cumulative affect if there started to be second story additions on the south side of street. He didn’t think it would take very long before the view issue would become the concern of not just one home but many. Further, Commissioner Cartwright was not convinced that the applicant had looked very hard at minimizing the view impact. He explained that there was a code the Planning Commission was expected to follow and they really didn’t have the option of much discretion in terms of the code.
Chairman Lyon re-opened the public hearing.
Diane Weinberger stated that the view was a subjective issue and pointed out that the owner of 4343 Dauntless Drive has no objection to the project.
Commissioner Long explained that neighbors do not "sign off" on projects and that the City does not do planning by neighborhood voting. He stated the Planning Commission was charged with making fact-findings and making a decision based upon those facts.
Chairman Lyon closed the public hearing.
Commissioner Mueller moved to accept the staff report as presented and adopt P.C. Resolution No. 2002-01 thereby denying without prejudice Height Variation No. 938 and approve Site Plan Review No. 9202, seconded by Commissioner Long.
Commissioner Cartwright asked staff to clarify what it meant to deny a project without prejudice.
Director/Secretary Rojas explained that to deny the project without prejudice would allow the applicant to submit a new application that would perhaps address the Commission’s concerns. He noted that the new application would require new fees, a new review period, and new noticing. He stated that the applicant could also appeal the Planning Commission’s decision to the City Council. Mr. Rojas explained that denying a project with prejudice would mean that the applicant could not submit a new application for at least a one-year period.
The motion passed (3-2) with Commissioner Vannorsdall and Chairman Lyon dissenting.
Commissioner Long noted that he voted in favor of the motion however he did not agree with staff’s conclusions on neighborhood compatibility.
Chairman Lyon noted that the applicant could appeal the decision to the City Council within 15 days or submit a new application which might be more favorably accepted by the majority of the Commission.
3. Creation of an institutional memory file.
Director/Secretary Rojas presented a couple of ideas for creating an institutional memory file: one being to expand on the current Follow-Up Agenda and present more detailed explanations of Commission decisions, and the other to create a table containing short narratives describing what Commission decisions occurred on what date.
Chairman Lyon felt there was value in this type of table and suggested a summary that contained four things: the subject and category in which the decision falls in, a description of what the request was, a description of the action taken by the Planning Commission, and if appropriate any comments that would convey any special circumstances or conditions that the Commission considered in making their decision.
Commissioner Long liked both of staff’s ideas and felt a more detailed Follow-Up Agenda would be helpful. He discussed ways to write short, detailed paragraphs about the Planning Commission’s decision which included the key points of the decision.
The Commission discussed different methods of how the institutional memory file could be created. They felt that this could be helpful to the City Council, public and staff and only secondarily to the Planning Commission.
Director/Secretary Rojas stated that as long as the memory file system was limited to very brief statements or paragraphs, it shouldn’t be very difficult for staff to implement.
Commissioner Long felt this would help the Planning Commission see what decisions had been made as a whole rather than on a case-by-case basis.
Director/Secretary Rojas felt it was important to focus only on projects that deal with neighborhood compatibility or new homes. The Planning Commission agreed.
After a brief discussion, the Commission felt this was a good idea. Chairman Lyon asked staff to put together a few different versions for the Planning Commission to review at a future meeting.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:00 p.m.