CITY OF RANCHO PALOS VERDES
MAY 13, 2003
CALL TO ORDER
The meeting was called to order by Chairman Long at 7:05 p.m. at the Fred Hesse Community Room, 29301 Hawthorne Boulevard.
Recording Secretary Peterson led the assembly in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Present: Commissioners Cartwright, Cote, Lyon, Tomblin, Vice Chairman Mueller, Chairman Long.
Absent: Commissioner Duran Reed was excused.
Also present were Director of Planning, Building, and Code Enforcement Rojas, Associate Planner Blumenthal, Associate Planner Schonborn, Assistant Planner Luckert, and Recording Secretary Peterson.
APPROVAL OF AGENDA
Commissioner Tomblin moved to approve the agenda as presented, seconded by Commissioner Cartwright. Approved, (6-0).
Director/Secretary Rojas distributed 3 letters of correspondence regarding Agenda Item No. 3 and 3-mail correspondences received on firstname.lastname@example.org regarding the RV issue. He also distributed 2 letters regarding Agenda Item No. 1 that were received after the Monday deadline.
Director/Secretary Rojas reported that at the last meeting the Neighborhood Compatibility Ordinance was introduced to the City Council and will return on May 20 for the final reading and that it will go into affect 30 days after the final reading. He also reported that the RV Ordinance had been approved by the City Council and that the City Council had directed the Traffic Committee to look at traffic safety issues and report back to the City Council at the 6-month review.
COMMENTS FROM THE AUDIENCE REGARDING NON-AGENDA ITEMS
1. Variance, Height Variation, and Grading Permit (Case No. ZON2002-00388): 6512 Nancy Road
Associate Planner Schonborn presented the staff report. He explained the scope of the project and the need for the three applications. He noted that since the applicant was proposing to attach the existing garage to a two-story addition, and the garage is at a lower elevation, there is a new lower point of measurement for the overall height of the structure that creates an intensification to the non-conforming situation with respect to height; therefore, necessitating a Variance application. He explained that staff was not able to make all of the necessary findings to approve the applications. Regarding the Variance, staff did not feel there was an exceptional or extraordinary circumstance, as staff felt that there was sufficient area throughout the property that could accommodate an addition that would not affect the overall structure height. Further, staff did not feel the Variance was necessary for the preservation of a substantial property right of the applicant. He stated that the applicant’s property is the only structure that staff was able to identify as having a height that exceeds the maximum permissible by the City’s code. Thus, staff believes that allowing the owner to construct an addition that will result in an overall height increase would grant special privilege to the property owner. Discussing the height variation, he explained that staff was able to make all but one of the findings required, specifically finding no. 8 discussing neighborhood compatibility and structure size. He stated that typically additions and remodels will result in structures that are the largest in the immediate neighborhood, however since this project entails a Variance application to gain the additional structure size, staff believes that the resulting structure size would be too large for the immediate neighborhood; specifically the resulting structure size would be 2,212 feet larger than the average structure size in the immediate neighborhood. Regarding the grading application, staff found that all but one of the findings could be made, as staff believes the proposed grading exceeds that which is necessary for the use of the lot. Therefore, staff has determined that the applicable findings could not be made for support of the project, and recommends the Planning Commission deny the application.
Commissioner Lyon asked if a person standing on the street or driving by would be aware of the fact that there was an addition to the existing home.
Associate Planner Schonborn answered that the proposed addition would not be apparent from the street.
Commissioner Lyon asked if the garage were not proposed to be attached to the existing structure, would there be a need for a Variance application.
Associate Planner Schonborn answered that there would still be a need for the Variance application, because between the residence and the garage the grade continues to drop to the garage. Further, staff has found that, in looking at the survey, the area that could accommodate an addition without affecting the overall height is the patio/deck area.
Commissioner Cote asked staff to explain the roll of the Art Jury in this situation.
Associate Planner Schonborn explained that Art Jury approval was required through the neighborhood CC&R’s, however the Art Jury is an entity that is separate from the City of Rancho Palos Verdes, and looks at the architectural style and integrity of the structure.
Commissioner Cote asked if the Art Jury also looks at neighborhood compatibility in regards to mass and bulk.
Director/Secretary Rojas did not believe that the Art Jury would look at the size and bulk of the project. He noted that Miraleste is a unique community which is governed by the Art Jury; however, just like any other HOA, City decisions are irrespective of whatever the CC&Rs say. He stated that the Art Jury looks at the design and architectural features, and not the issues of compatibility.
Regarding neighborhood compatibility, Chairman Long asked staff what would happen if the facts seem to suggest that the existing structure is not compatible with the immediate neighborhood character, but that the proposed addition does not make the existing incompatibility any worse than it already is.
Director/Secretary Rojas felt that in a situation such as that, the findings could be made.
Commissioner Tomblin referred to the plans and asked staff to explain where they thought the addition could be placed and what their thought process was in making that decision.
Director/Secretary Rojas explained that the proposed project would not be seen from the street, and normally that would be a reason to justify approval of the project in terms of size. The issue with this project, however, was the height of the proposed project. Staff felt that there could be an addition to this residence that doesn’t require a Variance, and therefore staff could not make the appropriate findings.
Commissioner Cartwright stated that a Variance was used when a piece of property is not as productive as others, and the Variance was used to bring it up to parity with the other properties. He further noted that a Variance must be subject to conditions that ensure that it does not constitute a grant of special privileges.
Commissioner Long opened the public hearing.
Rob Katherman 18 Rockinghorse Road explained that this was a house built in the 1930s which does not meet the current City code. He felt that to build an addition to the home which is compatible to the floor level of the existing first floor of the house one would need to go down to an elevation of 623, and in order to build an addition to the house the owners would have to build a new garage which would be accessed from the existing driveway, which is at an elevation of 623. Therefore, he felt that any addition to the house that would make the home useable, accessible to the cars, and would meet the City code for parking the cars, would require a variance. He therefore stated that it would be physically impossible to add on to the house without a variance. He felt that if the Planning Commission denies the Variance application, there is no way this home can be added on to that will make it useable. He asked the Commissioners to look at the floor plans and try to figure out how to add on to the home at the existing patio level. He felt that adding on to the home would make the first floor an unusable basement. He felt that this home was the most unique one in this situation that he has seen in the City, as it is an existing three-story home. He stated that the Variance for 33 feet in height was necessary because of the sloping nature of the property, and no matter what the Planning Commission decided, any addition approved must be at least 31 feet 3 inches in height. Regarding the height variation, he noted that staff could make all findings but one, which was the size of the home. He noted that the lot is very large and is 75 percent larger than the average lot size in the neighborhood, and with the proposed addition the lot coverage would only be 18 percent. Finally, he noted that this home could be considered an historical home and that the owner would like to preserve the historical nature of the home, which added to the unusual circumstances to the property. He therefore felt that the Planning Commission should consider all aspects of the project and approve the project as presented.
Commissioner Cartwright stated that the primary job of the Planning Commission is to make land use decisions that are consistent with the Development Code as approved by the City Council, and therefore were bound by the Development Code in making their decisions. He did not think that convenience or the want or need for a larger house merits the granting of a Variance.
Chairman Long stated that staff had indicated there was a possibility of adding on at a different location of the property, however Mr. Katherman had felt that would still require a 31-foot, 3-inch height, and asked Mr. Katherman how he reached that conclusion.
Mr. Katherman explained that in order to add anything on to the house and to make the existing garage compatible with the Codes, one must add at least one more garage to the property, and in order to do that one would add the garage somewhere in the location where the existing basketball hoop and wall are located. Further, the area covered by the garage and driveway are at elevation 623 and the height of the ridgeline is 654, making the addition 31 feet in height.
Chairman Long asked if Mr. Katherman was saying that any addition will be over 31 feet in height, and on any property there is a right to add on.
Mr. Katherman explained that one issue is the Variance for the height of the proposed project, and given the circumstances there is no way to add on to this house without going over 30 feet.
Chairman Long stated that it is quite possible, given the circumstances of this house and this neighborhood, that the house may be at its maximum, given that it already is a three-story home.
Mr. Katherman felt that was a decision the Planning Commission would have to wrestle with; however, he felt otherwise.
Commissioner Tomblin asked staff if the garage was a legal or a non-conforming garage.
Associate Planner Schonborn answered that staff had not determined the garage to be non-conforming, as it seems to meet the minimum code requirements of a two-car garage.
Vice Chairman Mueller asked if it was staff’s opinion that the applicant could add to their home and keep the existing garage.
Associate Planner Schonborn answered yes, but once the addition results in a habitable space that is 5,000 square feet or more, then a third garage space would be required.
Chairman Long stated that there are two reasons the house needs to be 31-feet 3-inches: one being it is more than 5,000 square feet as proposed, and the second is that since it is more than 5,000 square feet more garage space required, and the more garage space leads to the 31-feet 3 –inches.
Mr. Katherman responded that was correct.
Commissioner Cartwright asked Mr. Katherman if he felt this house was more historic than the other houses in the community and therefore should be given special treatment as a historic structure.
Mr. Katherman answered that the house was built in the 1930’s and was the first house to be built in this part of the Miraleste neighborhood, and therefore merits some historical consideration.
Joseph Rich 6512 Nancy Road stated that Mr. Katherman had discussed most of the things he felt justified proceeding with the project. He noted that the house could be its own worst enemy, which he felt in its own was an extraordinary circumstance that should be considered, as he could not add on to the house without the variance. He noted the letters of support from his neighbors and explained that he had worked closely with his neighbors so that all involved were happy.
Commissioner Lyon asked Mr. Rich if he had shown the proposed addition plans to the residents of the two homes on Miraleste Drive.
Mr. Rich answered that he was never able to contact either of them, and noted that one of the neighbors refused to talk to him and the other has a fenced yard with a dog. He felt that the addition would be well below the tree line of their view.
Commissioner Cartwright asked Mr. Rich to address staff’s contention that he could build an addition up to 5,000 square feet without requiring a Variance, and why that was so unreasonable that the Planning Commission should grant a Variance for the project.
Mr. Rich answered that he needs the Variance to attach any addition to his existing house, because he is establishing a new lower point of measurement.
Chairman Long asked staff if any addition attached to the house would require a Variance.
Director/Secretary Rojas stated that staff did not feel any addition would require a Variance, and explained that in trying to make the necessary findings staff identified an area of approximately 700 square feet near the existing patio area, that is at an elevation of approximately 625, which is above the current lowest elevation of 623.64 feet. Therefore, staff felt that the area could accommodate a two-story structure without having to go down below the current lowest grade and would not require a Variance.
Raul Podesta 797 Miraflores Ave San Pedro stated he was the architect for the project, and would like to clarify a few issues regarding the project. He explained that the existing side of the lowest point of grading is at the entry of the laundry room, and if you took the lowest point to the top of the ridge, it is 33 feet, 6 inches. He stated that the existing garage is not conforming to current codes, and that he would like to use the existing garage in conjunction with a new garage to satisfy the code requirement for a house over 5,000 square feet. He added that in order to have a garage this size, a 25-foot radius was required. He stated that in order to design a house with the addition towards the back of the house as staff recommends, the house will be chopped up and the flow to the house will be tremendously compromised. He stated that the current design had taken into account the concerns of the neighbors, and felt that adding on in the area suggested by staff would compromise the privacy and views of the neighbors. He felt that this home was well designed in terms of the needs of the neighbors, it was well designed in terms of the code, and that there were special circumstances compared to the rest of the lots in the area.
Commissioner Cartwright noted that Mr. Podesta had stated that he had tried to design the home to meet City codes, but pointed out that a Variance was required, and asked Mr. Podesta why he designed something that would require a Variance.
Mr. Podesta answered that the Variance was triggered by the staff, as the addition is 26 feet in height. He stated that any addition attached to the house would trigger a Variance.
Commissioner Cartwright asked if staff had indicated that this addition would require a Variance.
Mr. Podesta answered that staff had not initially informed him, and that he was very surprised to learn a Variance was required. He added that he did not apply for the Variance until after the staff had denied the original application.
Director/Secretary Rojas clarified that the application was originally submitted on August 2, 2002, and the first correspondence dated August 21, 2002 from staff to the applicant and architect pointed out that the project exceeds the 26-foot height limit and a Variance application would be required.
Vice Chairman Mueller asked Mr. Podesta if he had researched and attempted to make the addition under 5,000 square feet and retain the existing garage.
Mr. Podesta answered that it was not an issue because of the owner’s requirements for space and the function of the house.
Vice Chairman Mueller asked staff if a design were submitted for a living area of 5,000 square feet, which does not include the detached garage, would a new garage still be required.
Associate Planner Schonborn answered that a new garage would not be required if the habitable space of the home was less that 5,000 square feet.
Vice Chairman Mueller asked if there was any way to design a smaller addition that would meet these requirements and not require a Variance.
Mr. Podesta answered that it was possible to design an addition to make the house 5,000 square feet, leaving the existing garage as is. He noted, however, that the current garage is too small and does not fit the needs of the family.
Commissioner Cote asked staff to clarify why an addition could be attached to the home, with less square footage, but it can go higher than 26 feet in height because the existing home is 30 feet high. She also asked staff to clarify for her the need for the Variance.
Director/Secretary Rojas explained that because this home was built before the City incorporated there were certain code requirements that this home does not meet, and are considered legal, non-conforming structures. He stated that the Code specifically states that one cannot increase the degree of non-conformity. In this situation the home is at 30.66 feet in height and the applicant can make additions to his home provided that the down slope height does not exceed 30.66 feet in height. To exceed the height a Variance is required, and staff will then look at what hardship is driving the applicant to apply for the Variance. He stated that in this particular situation, staff felt there was an area on the property that an addition could be placed that does not increase the down slope height beyond 30.66 feet. He acknowledged, however, that this option would not allow the same square footage the applicant was proposing.
Commissioner Cote asked Mr. Podesta why the applicant didn’t consider this alternative option that would not require a Variance.
Mr. Podesta explained that there is an existing room on the lowest level of the home that is used for laundry, and the windows would have to be eliminated, which the owners did not want to do.
Commissioner Lyon asked Mr. Podesta if it were possible to do the basic addition that he is requesting, but not attach it to the existing garage, thereby leaving a very minimal space between the house and the garage.
Mr. Podesta felt it was possible as long as there were no planning regulations or building codes prohibiting it.
Commissioner Tomblin asked if staff would have objections if the applicant were to propose this addition detached from the existing garage.
Associate Planner Schonborn answered that staff would still have an objection because there would still be a lowest finished grade elevation of 623.07, which is still less than the 623.64 that is existing.
Chairman Long asked if the finished grade were raised, would there then be a problem.
Director/Secretary answered that there most likely would not be a problem.
Commissioner Cartwright felt that to eliminate the Variance would require quite a change in the design of the addition, and would be reluctant to say that a design change would not require a variance until it was reviewed by staff, and noted that the applicant would still need a height variation and grading permit which would trigger specific findings be made.
Chairman Long closed the public hearing.
Commissioner Lyon stated that this project was very difficult, saying that everyone can read the code and determine that the project does not precisely meet the code requirements. He felt the Planning Commission needed to go a little deeper than that and realize that the facts and details of this project are totally unobservable by the public and it troubled him that the Planning Commission cannot do what, in his judgment, would be the right thing to do and find a way to do what makes common sense. However, he felt that with some minor changes in grading and a little more imagination in the design, there are ways to accommodate the requirements of the code without grossly changing what the client desires. He felt it would be a good idea to give the architect a little time to reflect on the concerns expressed by staff and the Planning Commission, to avoid the problem of the Variance, and felt the architect should be able to find ways of satisfying the Code requirements so that the Planning Commission could make the findings.
Commissioner Cote stated that she had visited the site, and because the addition is at the rear of the residence, it is not apparent from the street, and she did not necessarily agree with staff regarding the height variation finding with respect to mass and bulk. In discussing the Variance, she stated that making findings for a Variance application is very difficult, and she felt it was very important for the Planning Commission to make these findings. She felt it was difficult to make the findings in this case, as a creative architect and applicant should be able to design an addition that will address the needs of the applicant as well as the restrictions of the City. She stated that right now she could not support the proposed addition but would like the applicant to come back with a revised plan.
Commissioner Cartwright felt that a Variance is a device set aside for the Planning Commission to make exceptions to the zoning ordinances when there are very unusual and extraordinary circumstances that are usually caused by topography. He did not think a Variance should ever be granted to allow someone less inconvenience or to allow someone to build a bigger house. He would like to see the applicant improve their property, however he could not make the findings to support the Variance. He too would like to see the applicant take a little more time to design a project that does not require the Variance.
Commissioner Tomblin agreed with the comments made by the other Commissioners. He felt that the house was its own worst enemy, and noted that this was an historical house built under particular circumstances. He felt that with a little more work the applicant could submit a plan that would not require a Variance.
Vice Chairman Mueller stated that he did not see the exceptional or extraordinary circumstances necessary to grant the Variance. He felt that because the lot is quite large there is a way to design a home to achieve the large square footage without requiring a Variance and the applicant should take time to re-design the addition so that a Variance would not be required.
Chairman Long agreed that it was very difficult to make the findings to support a Variance application. He questioned whether the size of the home was compatible with the rest of the neighborhood. He asked staff if each application could be considered separately, so that the Planning Commission might possibly deny the Variance but continue the height variation and grading permits.
Director/Secretary Rojas answered that the Planning Commission could deny the Variance, which would clearly establish the parameters of the re-design, and then direct the applicant to re-design the project accordingly and either bring it back to the Planning Commission at a future date for review or remand it to staff, since the Planning Commission would not have seen this application if it weren’t for the Variance.
Chairman Long re-opened the public hearing.
Chairman Long asked Mr. Katherman if, given the sentiment of the Commission, the applicant would prefer the Commission act on all of the issues tonight or continue the item to allow the applicant and architect to redesign the proposed addition.
Mr. Katherman asked if the applicant were to withdraw the Variance application and re-design the project so that a Variance would not be needed, would the applicant need to come back to the Planning Commission or was it a staff level approval.
Chairman Long answered that was his understanding from what staff had said, and staff concurred.
Director/Secretary Rojas added, however, that once the Planning Commission has started hearing an item staff tends to have the Planning Commission finish the item, however that option was up to the Planning Commission.
Commissioner Lyon moved to deny the Variance, continue the Height Variation and Grading permit to allow the applicant to redesign the project, and remand the height variation and grading permit to the Director for review, seconded by Commissioner Tomblin.
Vice Chairman Mueller proposed to amend the motion to deny the Variance, but to continue the item to the Planning Commission rather than the Director, seconded by Commissioner Cote.
Commissioner Tomblin did not see why, if there is not a view issue and there is nothing that triggers the Planning Commission review, the Planning Commission should have to hear the item rather than the decision be made at the Director level.
Commissioner Cote was uncomfortable remanding the decision back to staff. She noted that the staff report does not support the approval of the height variation, however the Planning Commission has essentially agreed that they could most likely approve a height variation for the project.
Commissioner Tomblin agreed with Commissioner Cote’s remarks.
Commissioner Cartwright felt that the Planning Commission had already invested quite a bit of time in this project and had a good understanding of the property, and what would and would not be acceptable as an addition. Therefore, he would like to see the project be continued to the Planning Commission for review.
Chairman Long agreed that the Planning Commission had already invested a lot of time in this project and should see the project through.
The amendment to the motion to deny the Variance and continue the remaining items to the Planning Commission passed, (6-0).
The motion to deny the Variance and continue the height variation and grading permit to the Planning Commission meeting of June 10, 2003, was approved. (6-0).
RECESS AND RECONVENE
At 9:20 p.m. the Planning Commission took a short recess until 9:35 p.m. at which time they reconvened.
Chairman Long stated that before beginning the next agenda item the Planning Commission may want to consider whether or not they were going to get to Agenda Item No. 5, the View Restoration Guidelines before 11:00.
5. View Restoration Guidelines (Review of Guidelines conceptually approved at joint workshop held February 8, 2003)
Commissioner Tomblin moved to continue the item to a later date, seconded by Commissioner Cote. Approved, (6-0).
2. Grading Permit and Site Plan Review (Case No. ZON2002-00594): 4 Yellowbrick Road
Associate Planner Schonborn presented the staff report. He explained the scope of the project and the need for a grading permit. He stated that all findings for the grading permit could be made, and therefore staff was recommending the Planning Commission approve the project, subject to the conditions of approval.
Commissioner Cartwright asked staff if they had received any correspondence from the HOA for the neighborhood regarding the project.
Associate Planner Schonborn responded that he had spoken to representatives of the HOA and they did not indicate any concerns with the proposed project.
Chairman Long opened the public hearing.
Doug Leach 119 W. Torrance Blvd, Redondo Beach, stated he was the architect for the project. He explained that this was the last vacant lot of this 7-lot tract, and the owners have done a wonderful job communicating with the neighbors and gathering support. He stated that he and the owners agree with the staff report and have no objections to any of the conditions placed on the project.
Robert Nagamoto 3294 Via Campesina stated that he lives right behind the proposed project, and that the residents at 3292, 3294, 3296, 3298 Via Campesina are very concerned about the proposed project in regards to the quantity of proposed grading. He explained that over the years the roadway has partially buckled and portions have washed away on three separate occasions, once during heavy rains, once following the construction of a home at 2 Yellowbrick Road, and once when Cox Cable damaged the road. He explained that on each of the three occasions the four residents had to pay the entire cost of the road repairs and repaving, as well as a road drainage system to prevent further damage during heavy rains. He and the other residents were deeply concerned that the grading for this new home would result in the weakening of the road and possible future buckling of the road. He stated that he was not objecting to the new home, only worried about the grading that may weaken his road.
Commissioner Cartwright asked Mr. Nagamoto if the homeowners were able to determine if the cave-in of the road was caused by the construction of the home at 2 Yellowbrick Road.
Mr. Nagamoto answered that he could not physically prove it, but that was what all the neighbors felt caused the problem.
Chairman Long asked Mr. Nagamoto if he had gotten any recommendations from a geologist on what to do with the road.
Mr. Nagamoto stated that he had not done that; however, after the second failure the homeowners hired someone to put in a drainage system to drain the water away from the roadway. He stated that what all the neighbors needed was reassurance that there will be a retaining wall to prevent slippage of dirt underneath his road.
Chairman Long closed the public hearing.
Commissioner Cartwright asked staff to respond to the concerns of Mr. Nagamoto that the geology for the new home address the road.
Associate Planner Schonborn responded that when a new house is proposed geology is submitted to the city geology for review and approval, which has been done. He noted that there is a building grading restriction line that traverses this property that is approximately 40 to 45 feet in width from the rear property down the slope which would prevent any grading or construction within that area.
Director/Secretary Rojas did not feel there were any aspects of the project that would affect the roadway.
Commissioner Cote asked if the same restriction area is in place at 2 Yellowbrick Road.
Associate Planner Schonborn answered that the restriction line traverses the rear of both properties.
Commissioner Tomblin asked if the geology report specifically addressed the situation of the road on the upper lot.
Director/Secretary Rojas did not think that it did, given that this was the first staff had heard of the concern.
Associate Planner Schonborn added that the plans still needed to go through the Building and Safety plan check process, which will look at the grading and potential impacts that could occur to adjacent properties.
Commissioner Tomblin felt that, in light of what was just heard, he would be uncomfortable giving this project an approval without having this issue specifically addressed in the geology report.
Chairman Long felt that the Planning Commission could make sure that Building and Safety was alerted to the potential problem and that it was looked at carefully in the plan check process. He suggested modifying condition 15 to say that prior to the issuance of a grading permit the grading plan will be reviewed and approved by the City Geologist and the City Geologist consider the location of the adjacent roadway and the affects the proposed project may have on the roadway to ensure that problems to the roadway do not occur.
Commissioner Long re-opened the public hearing.
Commissioner Tomblin asked Mr. Leach where the road was in relationship to the plan submitted to the City.
Mr. Leach answered that the road was not on the site plan, as the road is quite far up the hill.
Commissioner Long closed the public hearing.
Commissioner Cartwright moved adopt P.C. Resolution 2002-18 thereby approving the project as recommended by staff, with the modification to condition of approval no. 15 for the City Geologist to consider the affects of the project on the road in question.
Commissioner Tomblin asked the motion be amended to require the site plan be revised to show the road on the plan.
Vice Chairman Mueller seconded the original motion and Chairman Long seconded the amendment to the motion.
Chairman Long asked Commissioner Cartwright if he accepted the amendment to his motion.
Commissioner Cartwright answered that it wasn’t clear to him that any value was being added by showing the road on the site plan. He understood the intent of Commissioner Tomblin, but did not feel it was necessary to show the road on the plan, as the city geologist would visit the site.
Vice Chairman agreed and stated that the road will be on the tract maps or records at the City and that putting the road on the plans was not acknowledging anything other than the road is there.
Chairman Long withdrew his second to the amendment to the motion, and the amendment died due to a lack of a second.
The motion to approve the project passed, (6-0)
3. Vesting Tentative Parcel Map Permit (Case SUB2002-00005): 7455 Via Lorado
Assistant Planner Luckert presented the staff report. He explained the proposed parcel map was for the sub-division of two existing residentially zoned lots. He stated that necessary findings could be made by staff, and the city’s Traffic Engineer has tentatively approved the project and agreed that the two lots could easily be accessed off of Palos Verdes Drive West rather than Via Lorado via a 22-foot wide ingress/egress easement and a drainage easement located in the middle of the lot. He stated that based on the analysis in the staff report, staff felt that proposed sub-division complies with the City’s Subdivision Ordinance and if mitigation measures are incorporated there will be no significant affect to the environment. Therefore, staff was recommending the Planning Commission certify the Mitigated Negative Declaration and conditionally approve the Vesting Tentative Parcel Map.
Vice Chairman Mueller asked if the two properties would share a common driveway which comes off of Palos Verdes Drive West.
Assistant Planner Luckert stated that was the proposal, and each driveway would be approximately 11 feet in width.
Vice Chairman Mueller asked staff if they had considered what would happen when the homes are built on the lots in terms of visibility when entering onto Palos Verdes Drive West. He noted that the speed limit on Palos Verdes Drive West was 45 mph at that point and wondered if staff had considered reducing the speed limit in that area.
Assistant Planner Luckert responded that the project had been forwarded to the Traffic Engineer, who thought the proposed location would be the best one for the driveway. He stated that the Traffic Engineer felt that a driveway entering onto Via Lorado would be too close to the intersection. Mr. Luckert noted that the final building plan and design will be forwarded to the Traffic Engineer for his review.
Vice Chairman Mueller asked if there were other short driveways exiting directly onto Palos Verdes Drive West.
Director/Secretary Rojas answered that there were several driveways on the other side of Palos Verdes Drive West that exited onto the street.
Chairman Long asked if the property were to be developed as a single lot, when it then is possible to place a single driveway far enough away from the intersection on Via Lorado.
Assistant Planner Luckert thought that would be possible.
Commissioner Cartwright noted this was a tentative map, and asked if the driveway could be placed in a different area on the final map without having to reopen the public hearing.
Director/Secretary Rojas answered that there was flexibility to change the location of the driveway in the future, however whatever easements are recorded by this map stay in affect.
Chairman Long opened the public hearing.
Cecilia Mauricio 7447 Via Lorado stated that she owns the property directly behind the parcel in question. She stated that she is concerned the two new houses will completely or partially block the views from her home and asked the Planning Commission to keep that in mind.
Nora Wagner 7449 Via Lorado stated that her home is also behind the parcel in question. She stated that she has no objections to the division of the property, however she stated her concerns regarding her view.
Chairman Long closed the public hearing.
Commissioners Tomblin, Cote, and Lyon all stated that they supported the staff recommendations regarding the project.
Vice Chairman Mueller stated that his concern centers around the driveway and safe access onto Palos Verdes Drive West. He felt that the more reasonable solution would be to put a driveway in with access to Via Lorado, which may require the lot not be subdivided to do that. He suggested that if the lot is subdivided that access should be considered near the rear of the lot, and felt that further study was needed by the Traffic Committee regarding safe exiting the property onto Palos Verdes Drive West.
Chairman Long stated that he shares the concerns of the Vice Chairman regarding the driveway. He recognized there were other driveways that accessed directly onto Palos Verdes Drive West, but felt they tended to be longer driveways and at an area where the road is divided. He therefore had doubts as to whether he could make the finding that the space is physically suitable for the proposed type and density of the development. He did not think another driveway along Palos Verdes Drive West was a good idea, particularly if the only reason it was being done is to squeeze in one more house that is only marginally suitable for two houses anyway.
Commissioner Tomblin asked staff if the Planning Commission were to approve this request, down the line when the plans for the homes were submitted to the City and it was determined that there was a problem with the driveway at that time, can the project be denied or has a precedent been set with the approval of the Tentative Parcel Map.
Director/Secretary Rojas answered that there would still be some flexibility to change the ingress and egress, however it would be more difficult if it were already approved on the Tentative Parcel Map. He therefore felt that if the Commission had doubts about the proposed driveway and they would like the Traffic Committee to look at the site, it could be remanded to the Traffic Committee for its opinion. He noted that if the driveway were to be moved to the rear of the property it would necessitate a great deal of grading because of the slope towards the rear of the property.
Commissioner Cote asked if the issue of safety was the speed of the traffic on Palos Verdes Drive West at this location or was it the ability to turn out of the driveway safely.
Chairman Long answered that it was the ability to turn safely onto Palos Verdes Drive West.
Commissioner Cartwright asked at what point or what triggers the Traffic Engineer getting involved with a plan when there are concerns over the safety of a driveway.
Director/Secretary Rojas answered that ultimately new driveways will require some type of permit from Public Works because they will be in the right-of-way or cutting some curbs, which means Public Works will review and approve all of the locations of the driveways. However, when a driveway location is being changed or a new driveway is being created staff takes it to the Public Works Department early in the project, as there may be an issue regarding the distance the driveway must be from the corner or from another driveway. In this case, Public Works has reviewed the plans and the Traffic Engineer stated that he did not have a problem with the driveway.
Commissioner Cartwright pointed out that there are several driveways along Palos Verdes Drive West on the other side of the street, and to his knowledge there have been no problems with egress with these sites.
Commissioner Lyon did not see a problem with the proposed driveway or the entire project. He did not feel the length of the driveway was relevant, as one would have to stop at the end of the driveway before entering Palos Verdes Drive West, no matter how long the driveway. He did not think the Planning Commission could deny this property owner rights that are enjoyed by other property owners in the same area. Further, the Code identifies the minimum requirement for a lot size, and these lots are 22 percent higher than that minimum. He did not see any basis for not approving the request, and by so doing that does not preclude the relocation of the driveway if that becomes necessary by some further findings.
Commissioner Lyon moved to adopt the staff recommendations, seconded by Commissioner Cartwright.
Commissioner Tomblin stated that he had originally supported the staff recommendations, however after hearing comments from the other Commissioners he would rather see what the entire picture would be before he says it is o.k. He was concerned about recording specific easements without knowing what was going to be built on the lots.
Director/Secretary Rojas explained that the way the Tentative Tract Map was proposed there was an easement called out on the map, and if approved as submitted, the easement will be recorded. If the Planning Commission wants to maintain maximum flexibility he suggested having the map recorded without an access easement and write conditions that the driveway location is to be determined by the Public Works Department or Traffic Committee at the time development applications are submitted.
Commissioner Cartwright asked who proposed to put the driveway where it is currently located.
Assistant Planner Luckert answered that the applicant had initially proposed the location of the driveway.
Commissioner Cartwright moved to amend the motion to eliminate the easement for the driveway, which was accepted by Commissioner Lyon. The motion passed, (6-0).
Director/Secretary Rojas stated that the Resolutions would come back on the Consent Calendar at the next meeting, as staff has to modify the findings to reflect the elimination of the easement for the driveway.
4. Coastal Permit, Height Variation, and Grading Permit (Case ZON2002-00272): 5 Packet Road
Associate Planner Blumenthal presented the staff report. He explained the need for the three applications and the scope of the project. He explained that there had been concern from the neighbors at 3 Packet Road regarding their view of Catalina Island. Staff was also of the opinion that the proposed architectural style and material was not compatible with the immediate neighborhood character, and as such staff could not make the finding for neighborhood compatibility. He stated that staff had received a letter regarding potential privacy issues from a neighbor on Seagate Drive. Staff noted while on a visit to the property on Seagate Drive that that the proposed addition is approximately 150 feet away from the property, and with the existing landscaping in the area staff noticed the silhouette was not very visible and, as such, staff did not feel there would be privacy infringement to the property. Regarding the Minor Exception Permit, staff felt that the proposed encroachment into the rear yard setback was self-induced and felt there was no unnecessary hardship, practical difficulty, or inconsistency with the Code, therefore staff felt that the findings for the Minor Exception Permit could not be made. He explained that the property was located within the Coastal Specific Plan for the City and staff felt the findings could be made for the Coastal Permit. Based on the analysis, staff feels that the findings for the height variation, grading permit, and minor exception permit cannot all be made, and staff is recommending the Planning Commission deny without prejudice the height variation, grading permit, minor exception permit, and coastal permit.
Commissioner Cartwright referred to a picture of the view from 3 Packet Road and the proposed 20-foot silhouette, and asked if there were a 16-foot line across the viewing area, what would be above that line.
Associate Planner Blumenthal answered that, with the proposed grading, it would be an ocean view that was lost and Catalina would be above the 16-foot level.
Commissioner Cartwright felt that a 16-foot ridgeline would completely block the view from 3 Packet Road, and therefore he did not understand what the 25 percent referred to in the staff report. He asked if it was possible to show a 16-foot line on the photo.
Associate Planner Blumenthal stated that staff had taken photos with a 16-foot pole, however due to technical difficulties they were not available. He explained that staff had put a 16-foot pole from the highest point on the lot where the structure is, and the pole did go above the line of Catalina.
Commissioner Cartwright did not understand why staff was recommending denial because of a significant view impairment, as there was no protected view. He felt that the applicant has made a considerable effort to minimize view impairment, to the extent that they have pushed the second story to the rear and the front only goes up 10 feet. He asked if the applicant proposed a 16-foot ridgeline, would staff’s recommendation be the same.
Director/Secretary Rojas answered that assuming there is no grading, 16-feet would take out the view, however staff was taking 16-feet based on the revised grade.
Chairman Long felt that the Planning Commission needed guidance from the City Council regarding this issue, and asked staff when the City Council would discuss the by right height limit.
Director/Secretary Rojas answered that the City Council would be discussing the by-right height limit on May 20.
Chairman Long asked if this application could be continued until after the May 20 meeting.
Commissioner Cartwright stated that what caused his concern was on page 19 of the staff report which states that staff feels the proposed second story will result in a significant impairment of views.
Chairman Long felt guidance from the City Council as to whether or not when evaluating the significant impairment, one should consider what is below 16 feet or not. He felt this input from City Council will make a difference to the staff conclusions and a difference to finding no. 6.
Director/Secretary Rojas explained that under staff’s normal review criteria staff would have said this is not significant because it is being blocked at 16 feet. However, in this situation, staff focused on the grading issue. He explained that on a grading permit the finding says grading or any related construction does not impair a view, therefore on a grading permit staff can look at everything, including the portions below 16 feet. He agreed that this item should be continued until the City Council discusses the by right height issue.
Commissioner Lyon felt that there were two kinds of grading to consider: grading up and grading down. He felt that a property owner has an inherent right to build up to 16 feet from the grade that exists when they buy the property. If the proposed grading is lowering the grade level, and thereby enhancing the view from another parcel, he did not feel would be a problem. He felt that this was the situation in this application, and that the grading was making the view situation better rather than worse.
Chairman Long opened the public hearing.
Frank Bostrom stated that he was the architect for the project. He explained that it was discovered when preparing the soils report, that this property was on an active drainage channel that had been filled up over the years, and any addition to the property would require a caisson and grade beam foundation. In meeting with the neighbors and discussing the project, the neighbors asked that any proposed addition be designed as transparent as possible, pushed back on the lot as far as possible, that the garage be located on the north side of the property so that it would align with the garage across the street, that the roof over the garage be tile and flat. He explained that the Minor Exception Permit was requested because pushing the second floor balconies back into the setback this would push the residence back to the setback line. Regarding the staff report, he had no objection to items 1 through 5. He stated that it was his contention that he had done everything possible to protect a significant view of Catalina Island that is available to the residents at 3 Packet Road. Regarding the Minor Exception, he knew he could comply without pushing the house back an additional two feet, however they felt this was important as it was a commitment made to the neighbors to help preserve their view.
Joanie Shomemaker 3 Packet Road, stated that she and her husband very strongly encouraged the Planning Commission to accept the proposal submitted by the applicants. She stated that a 15 or 16-foot addition would completely obliterate her view of Catalina and the ocean. He felt that the applicants and Mr. Bostrom had designed a great solution to a potentially difficult problem.
Chairman Long asked Ms. Shoemaker if she considered the impairment of the view by the structure, as proposed, to be significant.
Ms. Shoemaker stated that it was not significant, compared to what it could be.
Chairman Long asked if the proposed structure was compatible with other structures in the neighborhood.
Ms. Shoemaker answered that, given the materials suggested, she felt it was compatible with the neighborhood.
Marjory Jensen 32653 Seagate Drive #D stated that before she bought her condo, which overlooks Packet Road, she had been told by the Planning Department that Packet Road was zoned for one story homes with a 16 foot height restriction. She felt that the proposed addition was too large for the neighborhood and she felt that when one purchases a lot with these types of restrictions placed on it that there could be exceptional and extraordinary circumstances to allow a Minor Exception Permit. She was concerned that if more houses on Packet Road were to add a second story to their homes, all of the privacy for the condos at the Bay Club would be lost.
Chairman Long explained that there was no zoning that says a residence can only build one story and never build a second story. He explained the different types of applications that were applied for with this project and why they were needed.
Chairman Long closed the public hearing.
Commissioner Lyon felt that the Planning Commission has all of the facts, and did not think anything the City Council would say on the subject would change his opinion. He felt that the only people concerned about this situation, the applicant and the neighbor, were talking together and coming up with a viable solution that was acceptable to both of them, and he felt it was ridiculous for the Planning Commission to worry excessively about the interpretation of the Code when the people who care and are affected by the decision have reached an agreement that they support.
Commissioner Lyon moved to approve the project in its entirety, seconded by Commissioner Cartwright.
Vice Chairman Mueller felt the better solution would be to continue the item, and reminded the Commission that staff had made the recommendation to deny the application. He felt it was important to get the City Council input before considering this application.
Chairman Long stated that he opposed the pending motion was forcing the Planning Commission to decide the merits of the case, when a short continuance might service a useful purpose.
Commissioner Cartwright did not feel that anything was trying to get pushed through. He noted that for 25 years every Planning Commission and City Council has been interpreting the view with regards to 16 feet in a certain way. He did not think it made sense to stop deciding cases because within two weeks the City Council would be making a decision on view interpretation. He could not think of anything positive that could come out of the City Council one way or the other that would affect this application.
Chairman Long disagreed that the Ordinance had been interpreted the same over the years, and noted that this interpretation was incompatible with that of the View Restoration Commission. He felt that this project was incompatible with the neighborhood, and if compelled without further information and exploration of the issues to vote on the merits of the project, he did not think he had sufficient facts to make the necessary findings to support the project.
Commissioner Tomblin stated that the government works for the people and in this instance there are two parties who not only agree on what should be placed at the site, but met all of the steps of the process of approval, including approval of many of the neighbors in the radius, and he felt the Planning Commission should listen to them. He was disappointed with staff for not listening to the individuals involved in the project and giving their input more merit. He felt the project should be approved.
Vice Chairman Mueller felt that staff does their best to listen to the applicants and adjacent property owners, but many times things that are said in the public hearings are not said to the staff. He felt that staff follows the Ordinance with their recommendations, and the Planning Commission may not always agree with their recommendations.
Chairman Long added that staff’s responsibility is not to do planning by vote, but rather based on the fact-findings of the Ordinance.
Commissioner Cartwright felt that the Planning Commission has a responsibility to the public to make certain the City’s policies are understandable by the average person, and felt that in this situation the Planning Commission had not done a good job. He stated that he even had difficulty understanding the policies in this situation. However in this case he felt that he understood the facts well enough to make a decision.
Commissioner Cote felt that the decision made by the City Council could cause a significant change to this neighborhood and this project, and she would like to hear from the City Council before making her decision on this project. She further did not feel that the neighbors were given the opportunity to view the rendering of the proposed project. She stated that the rendering of the home solidified in her mind the issue that the staff report identified with respect to neighborhood compatibility. She would therefore prefer to continue the item to a future meeting.
Commissioner Tomblin asked staff if the rendering of the home had been shown to the neighbors.
Associate Planner Blumenthal answered that it was staff’s understanding that plans were taken to all of the property owners but not the actual rendering.
Chairman Long re-opened the public hearing.
Frank Bostrom stated that he had personally taken the colored rendering and the plans to all of the people on the required list.
Chairman Long closed the public hearing.
The motion to approve the project failed, (3-3) with Commissioner Cote, Vice Chairman Mueller, and Chairman Long dissenting.
Vice Chairman Mueller moved to continue the project to the meeting of June 10 to allow for input from the City Council regarding the 16 foot by right height limit, seconded by Commissioner Cote. The motion failed, (3-3) with Commissioners Lyon, Tomlin, and Cartwright dissenting.
Commissioner Cartwright moved to reconsider the last motion to continue the item to June 10, seconded by Commissioner Cote. Approved, (6-0).
Commissioners Tomblin and Cartwright stated that they only voted in favor of the motion because they did not want to see the project fail.
APPROVAL OF MINUTES
Commissioner Lyon noted that the date of the meeting was incorrect on page 1 of the minutes.
On page 8 of the minutes, Commissioner Cartwright clarified a sentence on page 8 of the minutes.
Chairman Long asked that on page 11 of the minutes the portions of the letter he read should either be quoted in the minutes or paraphrased to shorten the quote.
Commissioner Cartwright clarified a sentence on page 13 of the minutes. He also felt that there was a statement he made left out on page 13, in which he said he thought the Planning Commission had agreed to take no action on the public streets until the impact of the new private property restrictions were reviewed after a six month period.
Chairman Long did not feel the paragraph on page 13 fully reflected what he had said and asked staff to review the tape.
Commissioner Cartwright noted typos on page 14 of them minutes.
Commissioner Cartwright moved to approve the minutes as amended, seconded by Commissioner Lyon. Approved, (4-0-2) with Commissioners Cote and Tomblin abstaining since they were absent from that meeting.
ITEMS TO BE PLACED ON FUTURE AGENDAS
Vice Chairman Mueller and Director/Secretary Rojas stated they would not be at the May 27 meeting.
The meeting was adjourned at 12:20 a.m.