CITY OF RANCHO PALOS VERDES
PLANNING COMMISSION MINUTES
MARCH 9, 2004
CALL TO ORDER
The meeting was called to order by Chairman Mueller at 7:00 p.m. at the Fred Hesse Community Room, 29301 Hawthorne Boulevard.
Commissioner Gerstner led the assembly in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Present: Commissioners Cote, Gerstner, Karp, Knight, Tetreault, Chairman Mueller
Absent: Commissioner Van Wagner was excused
Also present were Director of Planning, Building, and Code Enforcement Rojas, Associate Planner Blumenthal, Assistant Planner Yu, and Recording Secretary Peterson.
APPROVAL OF AGENDA
Commissioner Karp moved to approve the agenda as presented, seconded by Commissioner Cote. Approved, (6-0).
Director/Secretary Rojas reported that the City Council had a discussion regarding the proposed 16-foot height limit Code Amendment language and that an item would be on the next Planning Commission agenda so that the Commission could provide it’s input to the City Council on the language.
Chairman Mueller reported that he spoke before the City Council regarding the code amendment and it’s language.
1. Selection of Vice-Chairman of the Planning Commission
Commissioner Tetreault nominated Commissioner Cote to be the Vice Chairman, seconded by Commissioner Karp.
Commissioner Cote was unanimously elected as the Vice Chairman to the Planning Commission.
COMMENTS FROM THE AUDIENCE REGARDING NON-AGENDA ITEMS
2. Height Variation Permit (Case ZON2003-00180): 2043 Beecham Drive
Assistant Planner Yu presented the staff report, explaining the scope of the project and that to address the Planning Commission’s concerns the applicant had reduced the second story addition by 10 square feet and reduced the height of the front entrance feature. She stated that staff has analyzed the revised project and does not feel that the revisions address the Planning Commission’s concerns regarding bulk and mass and neighborhood compatibility, and therefore staff was recommending that the Planning Commission deny, without prejudice, the proposed Height Variation.
Vice Chairman Cote stated that she was not at the meeting where this item was originally heard, however she has been to the site and reviewed the minutes and felt that she could participate in this hearing.
Vice Chairman Cote asked staff to clarify the modifications that were made to the project.
Assistant Planner Yu used power point slides to show the plans for the original proposed project and the newly revised project, pointing out where the reduction in square footage was and how the front entrance was reduced in height.
Vice Chairman Cote asked staff what additional recommendations they had that would make this addition more compatible with the neighborhood.
Assistant Planner Yu explained that staff felt that the front entrance should not project out from the house as far as it does and showed pictures of other homes in the neighborhood pointing out how the entrances are built more into the structure and do not project out from the house.
Chairman Mueller asked staff if they were suggesting the front entrance be integrated into the house structure or if they were suggesting moving the entrance back.
Director/Secretary Rojas explained that staff was trying to minimize the look of the entrance from the street, and pushing the entrance back slightly should address that concern.
Chairman Mueller opened the public hearing.
Kristi Skelton 777 Silver Spur Road, RHE (architect) stated that all of the neighbors and the homeowners association are happy with the revised project and have no objections to the project. She displayed a model of the proposed project and explained that the front entrance will not protrude very far from the residence and it has been lowered so that the eave is just above the handrail. She pointed out that the houses on both side of the project are the exact same floor plan and that both have a 6-foot setback to the second floor, while the applicant will have a 10-foot setback to the second floor. She also noted that the neighboring houses are taller and more massive in appearance from the front. She felt that there is a lot of definition to the proposed project, which will also decrease the appearance of mass and bulk of the house. She stated that both of the neighboring houses have 5-foot side yard setbacks while the applicant will be maintaining a 10-foot side yard setback.
Commissioner Tetreault noted that the street is on an angle so that the applicant’s property would be at a higher vertical elevation than it’s neighbor, and that is not shown on the 3D model.
Chairman Mueller noted the staff report addresses the issue that the east elevation is not articulated and contains an unbroken wall between the first and second story, and asked Ms. Skelton to respond to that concern.
Ms. Skelton explained that she has added more roof area to that area, noting there is still some unbroken wall near the center, but there is much more articulation from the front and towards the rear. She noted that almost every residence in the neighborhood, including the two neighboring homes, have the same unarticulated sidewall.
Chairman Mueller stated that the second concern in the staff report was that the front entrance is not proportional to other front entrances in the neighborhood, and asked Ms. Skelton to respond to this concern.
Ms. Skelton responded that staff has approved the architectural style that she has submitted for this home, and that the examples of front entrances that staff showed are on ranch style homes, which is a different style of home. She felt the new proposed entry is nestled in and is not much higher than the garage.
Chairman Mueller stated that the last concern in the staff report was regarding the front façade articulation, pointing out the L shaped homes that are prevalent in the neighborhood, and asked Ms. Skelton to respond to staff’s opinion that the proposed addition would not be compatible with the other homes in the neighborhood.
Ms. Skelton did not agree that the proposed addition would not be compatible with neighborhood, noting that there is only a 2-foot difference in the L shaped homes on either side of the applicant’s home. She noted that there are some houses that have deep L shaped homes, but there are other homes in the neighborhood that have no L shapes at all.
Jose Padilla 2043 Beecham Drive discussed the total footprint as compared to the total lot size, and noted that many homes in the neighborhood have a slope which is not buildable, but counts towards lot size. He felt that the modifications made to the addition have made quite a difference in the bulk and mass and distributed pictures of other homes in the neighborhood which he felt appear much more massive. He noted that most of the homes in the neighborhood have not gone through a major remodeling and distributed photographs of many of the homes in the neighborhood.
Commissioner Gerstner noted that most of the homes in the neighborhood are ranch style homes, however he felt the architectural style of the proposed plan is very consistent with many homes throughout the City. He asked Mr. Padilla what drove him to choose this style as opposed to the ranch style.
Mr. Padilla answered that he has done a lot of research in designing his floor plan to get an idea of modern floor plans that are in tune with modern needs and life styles. He felt this style is compatible with the homes throughout the Peninsula and meets his family needs.
Chairman Mueller closed the public hearing.
Vice Chairman Cote was confused by architect’s statement that the Planning Department had approved the architectural style of the home and asked staff if the Neighborhood Compatibility Handbook states that the Planning Commission approves architectural styles or does it give a range of styles that are compatible with various neighborhoods and recommendations on issues associated with mass and bulk.
Director/Secretary Rojas explained that the Neighborhood Compatibility Handbook describes different types of styles that exist, but does not approve styles for the different neighborhoods. He stated that staff and the Planning Commission determine if a project is compatible, and one of the criteria for making that finding is to compare the style. He stated that there is no approved style, and felt that what the architect was referring to was that staff had not raised any issues with the proposed architectural style in terms of neighborhood compatibility.
Vice Chairman Cote asked staff if the 3D model presented by the architect helped make the staff’s point or help resolve staff’s concerns.
Director/Secretary Rojas explained that at the last meeting the Planning Commission brought up issues and asked certain specific changes be made by the architect, and the role staff was taking in writing this staff report was to see whether the architect met the Commission’s directive. He added that in staff’s opinion the architect did not meet the directive given by the Planning Commission, but that it was ultimately up to the Planning Commission to decide if the architect went far enough.
Chairman Mueller discussed finding no. 5 in the original staff report regarding cumulative view impairment, and asked staff if they had examined the neighborhood in light of the new Urgency Ordinance for cumulative view impairment due to additions to the first story of the home.
Assistant Planner Yu stated that homes that have views in the neighborhood are above this home and staff did not feel there would be a cumulative view impact.
Director/Secretary Rojas added that, in regards to the Urgency Ordinance, staff did a new analysis based on the amended findings and determined that there would be no view impact. In regards to the cumulative view impact finding, he stated that staff’s decision has not changed and no new analysis was done.
Commissioner Knight moved to approve staff recommendation to deny, without prejudice, Height Variation Case No. ZON2003-00180, seconded by Vice Chairman Mueller.
Vice Chairman Cote stated that if she had been at the previous Planning Commission meeting her concerns about the articulation of the proposed addition would have been louder and clearer to the architect with respect to the problems. She felt that, even though the neighbors and HOA might agree with the proposed addition, the Planning Commission might not necessarily agree with the project. She did not feel that the applicant heeded the advice of the staff in the staff report or did enough modifications to address the concerns of the Planning Commission, and therefore supported the motion.
Commissioner Karp stated that his initial response was to support the staff recommendations, however after viewing the 3D model he felt that the proposed addition was compatible with the neighborhood and felt that the project should be approved.
Commissioner Gerstner felt he was clear with the architect at the last meeting as to what he would like to see addressed and felt it was addressed. He noted that it was not the solution he was expecting, however he felt it was a solution that works with the architecture. He discussed the side elevation and felt that the proposed side elevation was less oppressive than some of the existing homes’ side elevations. Therefore, he too was in favor of approving the project.
Commissioner Knight stated that part of his concern was the L shape articulation in the front and felt it could be recessed or set back slightly to give more articulation to the L shape.
Chairman Mueller discussed the side elevation, noting the wall separating the two homes, except for the last 10 feet, and felt this articulation addresses his concerns expressed at the last meeting. He discussed the front entrance and L shaped façade, and explained that the concern was not so much the design as the fact that when visually looking at the home from the street, the house will look massive.
Commissioner Tetreault felt that the articulation added to the side elevation helped break up the massiveness of the house from the side yard. He still felt the structure looks massive and bulky for the neighborhood, noting it will be quite a bit larger than the other houses in the neighborhood. He felt that the mass and bulk of the project was not in keeping with the overall neighborhood.
Chairman Mueller suggesting amending the motion to eliminate the concerns regarding the east side elevation articulation, as he felt that concern has been addressed, seconded by Vice Chairman Cote. The amendment to the motion passed (6-0).
Commissioner Gerstner was concerned that in denying the project based on the design of the front entrance and façade, was the Planning Commission asking the applicant to take it away completely and let the entrance be recessed similar to the ranch style homes in the neighborhood, or was the Planning Commission saying there may be some subtle modifications to the entrance element that might be acceptable.
Commissioner Karp felt that if this proposed motion is passed the Planning Commission should give the applicant very specific task instructions to work with.
Commissioner Gerstner felt that, given the style of the house and the mass of the houses in the neighborhood, he felt the entrance element was acceptable and was still in favor of the project.
The motion to adopt P.C. Resolution No. 2004-10 denying without prejudice Height Variation Permit Case No. ZON2003-00180, as amended to eliminate the concerns regarding the east side elevation articulation, passed (4-2) with Commissioners Gerstner and Karp dissenting.
3. View Restoration Permit No. 161: 7256 and 7264 Berry Hill Drive
Director/Secretary Rojas presented the staff report, noting that staff was recommending continuance of the item to the April 13, 2004 Planning Commission hearing.
Commissioner Karp moved to continue the item to April 13, 2004, seconded by Vice Chairman Cote. Approved, (6-0).
4. Height Variation (Case ZON2003-00510): 26930 Springcreek
Associate Planner Blumenthal presented the staff report, explaining the scope of the project and the need for the Height Variation. He stated that staff felt that all necessary findings to approve the project could be made and was recommending that the Planning Commission approve the project, subject to the conditions of approval.
Commissioner Knight asked if there was a proposed drainage plan for the project, as the driveway slope is 6% from the street down to the garage.
Associate Planner Blumenthal explained that drainage is reviewed in the Building and Safety phase of the project; however, he noted that in this case there will be a requirement for a sump pump and retention basin.
Chairman Mueller opened the public hearing.
Rex Holloway 26930 Springcreek (applicant) addressed the drainage, explaining that the architect has proposed a small sump pump and lift to get the water out, noting that the lift is less than 1/10 of an inch
Chairman Mueller closed the public hearing.
Commissioner Karp noted that if there are a few available inches the garage floor could be raised and there would be no need for a sump pump.
Associate Planner Blumenthal stated that the plate height in the garage, which is the distance between the floor and the roof of the garage, is proposed at 7 ½ feet.
Commissioner Knight stated that he prefers not to see the use of sump pumps and would prefer to see designs that use natural gravity flow, however he did not think it was a reason to deny this project.
Commissioner Gerstner moved to adopt P.C. Resolution No. 2004-11; thereby approving the Height Variation and Grading Permit (Case No. ZON2003-00510) as presented by staff, seconded by Vice Chairman Cote. Approved, (6-0).
RECESS AND RECONVENE
At 8:25 p.m. the Planning Commission took a short recess until 8:40 p.m. at which time they reconvened.
PUBLIC HEARINGS (CONT)
5. Appeal of Grading Permit (Case ZON2003-00425): 49 ¼ Rockinghorse Drive
Associate Planner Blumenthal presented the staff report, explaining that this was a request to overturn the Director’s approval of a new single-family residence. He noted that the site is very restrictive, pointing out on a Power Point slide the Open Space Hazard Zone, the Blue Line Stream, and the easement that is on the property. He explained that the structure must be out of the Open Space Hazard Zone and there are specific setbacks for the septic system from the streambed. He explained the scope of the project and that two appeals on the decision have been received, noting that one appellant was concerned that the current road is too narrow which creates a safety and access issue, the driveway can interfere with the potential expansion of the road in the future, and Condition No. 18, which prohibits the portion of the driveway in the easement, should be expanded to include a prohibition against walls, steps, landscaping, or anything else that prevents free passage of vehicles through the existing easement. He stated that staff has reviewed the appeal, and feels that while the road is narrow, it only serves three residents and there is no nexus to require the applicant to widen the road any further than it is. Regarding Condition No. 18, he explained that the intent was to allow the portion of the driveway to be used as a turnaround, and that preventing any gates to block access to that area of the driveway is sufficient and any additional conditions on that would be of no value. He explained the second appeal was based on structure size, view and privacy impairment, and relocating the driveway. He stated that there are several limitations on the property that makes it very difficult to move the structure or the driveway. With respect to concerns of privacy, he noted the appellant has a patio area on his property, and the applicant has agreed to move windows that could look onto the appellants property, and staff does not think the rest of the windows create an unreasonable infringement of privacy to the appellant. He noted that if the Planning Commission wishes to soften the appearance of the structure, staff recommends adding a condition to landscape between the two properties. He stated that staff does not feel the two appeals raise any new issues that were not previously analyzed in the original staff report, and as such staff concludes the requests to overturn the Director’s decision are not warranted and is recommending the Planning Commission deny the appeal and uphold the Director’s approval of the Grading Permit.
Commissioner Karp questioned if there was adequate egress in some of the rooms of the proposed residence.
Associate Planner Blumenthal stated that the concern was focused around the utility room, laundry room, and game room and staff discussed egress and light and air requirements in these areas with the Building Official. He stated that the Building Official determined that since the utility and laundry rooms are not sleeping rooms, they do not require emergency egress and are considered non-habitable areas. The game room also does not require egress, as it is not a sleeping room, however the applicant may be required to open a wall to make sure there is enough light coming in from the windows to meet the light and air requirements.
Commissioner Knight discussed the proposed turnaround area of the driveway and asked staff if the area will remain level or if it will slope down after the driveway has been graded.
Associate Planner Blumenthal answered that there will be a portion that will be graded down when grading for the driveway.
Commissioner Knight asked how this will remain a turnaround area if it is sloping down to the driveway.
Associate Planner Blumenthal answered that staff felt that even though the turnaround will be sloping down slightly, it is not enough of a slope to prevent vehicles from turning around.
Commissioner Knight felt that this portion of the road was very narrow and asked staff if they had checked with the Fire Department regarding street width and their requirements for access for emergency vehicles
Associate Planner Blumenthal explained that staff will check with the Fire Department when considering a new subdivision, however this area was sub-divided under the County before the City was incorporated and therefore the City does not check with the Fire Department before approving every new home since the access roadway is already there. He noted that during the Building and Safety plan check the plans will be submitted to the Fire Department for their review.
Commissioner Tetreault asked staff if this is a private road, and if so, who is responsible for it’s upkeep.
Associate Planner Blumenthal answered that this is a private road and the Association is responsible for it’s upkeep.
Commissioner Tetreault asked staff if they have researched and reviewed any existing easements for vehicular traffic through the area and the impact of this project on any easement rights.
Associate Planner Blumenthal explained that there is an easement, and showed the easement on a power point slide. He stated that staff feels that the addition of the third home will not impact the use of that easement.
Commissioner Tetreault asked how much of a drop there will be across the easement if the driveway is constructed as planned.
Associate Planner Blumenthal answered that there will be a drop of approximately 6 feet over a length of approximately 25 feet.
Commissioner Gerstner asked if the driveway were to be built as proposed, would that preclude the widening of the road into that easement or would there be a correction that could be made to the driveway should the road be widened, that would allow the driveway to function within the Code requirements.
Associate Planner Blumenthal answered that if the road were to be built out to the full easement, there would be some issues with the driveway; however, if the road was to be widened out to where the flat areas are now, the driveway could be configured to work.
Commissioner Gerstner asked if the adjacent properties have similar easements, and if so, have their driveways been constructed to allow the road to be widened.
Associate Planner Blumenthal showed the easement locations on an aerial photograph, and noted that it would be difficult to widen the road adjacent to the exiting homes as the homes are built fairly close to the easement edge.
Vice Chairman Cote asked why the driveway couldn’t be taken straight from the road rather than curving around as it is currently proposed.
Associate Planner Blumenthal explained that staff was concerned that a straight driveway from the road would require a Variance to exceed the minimum allowed 20 percent gradient for a driveway or would significantly increase the grading since the entire structure would have to be raised up.
Chairman Mueller asked if there was any way to make some sort of a common driveway with the vacant property next to the applicant’s property.
Associate Planner Blumenthal noted that the property in question is completely within the Open Space Hazard Zone and therefore it cannot be built on as currently zoned. He explained that there is a very steep change in elevation between the two properties, and felt it would be very difficult to approach the applicant’s property from the vacant neighboring property.
Chairman Mueller asked staff if the proposed residence was meeting the setback requirements on the side of the property and if it was correct to assume the property line is located at the edge of the fence.
Associate Planner Blumenthal answered that staff is not sure if the fence is on the property line or not; however, based on the survey provided by the applicant, the setback is proposed at five feet from the property line location noted on the survey.
Commissioner Gerstner asked staff if there had been any previous applications that had the house or garage any higher than what it is currently proposed.
Associate Planner Blumenthal explained that staff has looked at three or four different proposals from the applicant, and one of the proposals pushed the house almost up to the street. He noted that this proposal called for approximately 1,500 cubic yards of grading, and would require the approval of a Variance to allow for a reduced front yard setback.
Commissioner Knight asked staff to explain why a Variance is not needed for this current application, noting the 2:1 slope.
Director/Secretary Rojas explained that this is a legal lot, and in discussions with the City Attorney it has been determined that the City cannot preclude development on a legal lot even if the development is on an extreme slope. He noted, however, that the City does have the ability to restrict the grading.
Commissioner Knight stated that staff had indicated there was no native habitat on the lot, however in walking the area he noticed several native plants and that he was not sure he could make the finding, based on his observations. He asked staff if they had analyzed the native plants in the area.
Director/Secretary Rojas answered that, given the information from the NCCP documentation, staff determined there was no sensitive habitat on the property that would warrant any additional review.
Commissioner Tetreault asked if the easement was such that the holders of the easement could pave the section or portions of it to possibly widen the road.
Associate Planner Blumenthal answered that he does not have a copy of the easement and the specific details, but potentially the area could be paved.
Commissioner Tetreault felt it was important to know what easement rights the neighbors have. He asked if there have been any applications submitted to the City to widen the road.
Associate Planner Blumenthal answered there were no applications to widen the road that staff was aware of.
Chairman Mueller opened the public hearing.
David Falstrup 49 ¾ Rockinghorse Road (appellant) stated that his home at the end of Rockinghorse Road depends on the existing narrow road, noting that the current road is much too narrow and presents many safety issues. He stated that the easement gives them the right to widen the road at any time in the future, and he was asking that if the permit is granted it explicitly protects the ability to widen the road to the full potential width in the easement. He distributed photographs of the road and the homes existing on the road. He stated that the road is quite narrow and allows for only one-way traffic and there are already quite a few cars that frequent this small area and there will be more once this home is built.
Commissioner Knight asked if the easement was part of the sub-division or if it was granted at a later date.
Mr. Falstrup answered that he has lived in the home for 11 years and it has been in place for at least that long.
Commissioner Knight asked who was on the easement.
Mr. Falstrup answered that it was 49, 49 ¼, 49 ½, and 49 ¾ Rockinghorse Road.
Donald Dvorin 49 ½ Rockinghorse Road (appellant) stated he has read the revised staff report and respectfully disagrees with findings 3 and 6. He also stated he fully supports the Falstrup’s issues regarding the easement and widening the existing road. He stated that he has read the Neighborhood Compatibility Handbook and feels that the proposed residence is much larger than any of the other homes in the neighborhood, including homes that have been recently remodeled. He noted that this is a very unique lot with many constraints and that trying to put a home of this size on the lot would magnify every negative impact of the development onto his property. He discussed the staff report and how it focuses on viewing the applicant’s proposed residence from the street, and noted that the house cannot be seen from the street, but can be seen very clearly from his property. He questioned why staff recommended eliminating some windows in the office area that only look into the upper deck but allow windows in the dining room to stay that look directly into his patio area and home.
Commissioner Knight asked if adding vegetation between the properties would help Mr. Dvorin with his privacy concerns.
Mr. Dvorin answered that there is an area in his backyard where he does not have the ability to plant vegetation and he would be very grateful to have the applicant plant vegetation that would help screen the property. However, in discussing the dining room windows, they are at such an elevation above grade that he does not think there would be anything tall enough that could be planted that would help provide privacy. He also noted that there is only a 5 foot setback in that area and didn’t know how landscaping could be planted and maintained in such a narrow area. He added that he would much rather see landscaping, however, than the applicant’s dining room.
Vice Chairman Cote asked Mr. Dvorin if he felt the proposed driveway would provide an adequate turnaround area for vehicles on the street.
Mr. Dvorin did not think the driveway would be big enough for the service vehicles to turn around in or if anyone would look at that area and recognize it as a turnaround area. He also felt that the drop-off would be very discouraging for anyone to try to turn around at that point.
Chairman Mueller asked Mr. Dvorin to explain and clarify why he was recommending the ridgeline of the applicant’s home be lowered.
Mr. Dvorin explained that he uses his backyard extensively and from his patio, if the ridgeline is lowered approximately 24 inches it will preserve his hillside and horizon view.
Chairman Mueller asked Mr. Dvorin if he felt this was the primary view from his home.
Mr. Dvorin answered that, other than the formal living room and formal dining room, every room in his house is oriented towards the east and that view, however he has other views towards the north.
Stan Rinehart 1002 Ave A, Redondo Beach (applicant) distributed additional pictures and information to the Planning Commission. He noted that there are quite a few constraints on the property and he is trying to develop a house that meets all of the requirements and fits into the neighborhood. He stated that the easement being discussed is for ingress/egress only and not allowed for parking and/or staging and would be willing to give up a little of the easement for widening of the road, however noted that he was not willing to pay for the widening of the road. He felt that he would be able to give up two feet and the neighbor on the uphill side might be able to give up two feet to help create a wider road in that area. He discussed the turnaround area and felt that a nicely paved driveway head would be much more inviting for someone to turn around in than the dirt that is currently at the site. He discussed putting the house in different locations, and discussed other proposals that he had presented to the Planning Department. He noted that he had discussed a design that moved the house to the top of the lot and provided a direct access driveway on the upper floor. He explained that this design met all of the requirements except for the need for a Variance for the front yard setback, a height variation, and increased grading to create the driveway and the garage. He did not think there was much he could do with the location of the proposed house and the ridgeline is already about as low as it can get, but could possibly change the slope from 4:12 to 3:12.
Commissioner Knight asked why the lot line adjustment was necessary.
Mr. Rinehart explained that the property was landlocked and needed the lot line adjustment for access.
Commissioner Gerstner asked Mr. Rinehart why he abandoned the plan with the house at the top of the lot and the direct access driveway.
Mr. Rinehart answered that he had presented this option to the Planning Department, however staff felt that the plan before the Planning Commission had less factors to mitigate and fewer Variances involved.
Commissioner Gerstner felt that the other plan may have had more factors to mitigate, however the mitigating factors may have had less impact on the neighbors and allowed for the easement to be maintained better than the current plan.
Mr. Rinehart stated he is simply the designer trying to fit the house onto a difficult lot, and after receiving input from the planning staff he felt that staff was leaning more towards the present plan as it is more conforming to the Codes.
Vice Chairman Cote asked Mr. Rinehart, given the current plan, how much he felt the street could be widened.
Mr. Rinehart felt the street could be widened two feet on his side of the street and two feet on the uphill side of the street.
Vice Chairman Cote asked staff, given this is a private road, what kind of authority or ability does the City have to get involved with widening this section of the road.
Director/Secretary Rojas answered that, if the applicant is willing, a condition can be added to the conditions of approval regarding the widening of the road fronting the applicant’s property, however he felt staff would have to do some research and speak with the City Attorney regarding the issue.
Commissioner Karp asked staff, if most of the structure of the house is below the grade of the street, is there a problem involved if the house is allowed to exceed the 30-foot height limit.
Director/Secretary Rojas answered that in the past there has been a problem and many such proposals have been denied because homes that exceed the 30-foot height limit appear quite large when viewed from across the canyon.
Commissioner Karp asked the applicant if he has considered a house where the garage is at the top of the house and the house is a multi-level house below the garage.
Mr. Rinehart responded that he has already spent a considerable amount of money on the current plan and to consider such a plan he would have to start over with the soils and geology as well as the structural and civil engineering.
Carol Falstrup 49 ¾ Rockinghorse Road reiterated the concern regarding the safety issues of the street and the necessity to retain the right for the road to be widened.
David Falstrup (in rebuttal) was pleased that the applicant is in support of widening the road, however his concern is that something may happen in the development process where it will become impossible to widen the road, noting there are no guarantees or deals made. He felt that the way the driveway is currently proposed it would prevent widening the road on the downhill side and it would not be possible for cars to turn around at that site. He stressed that he was not asking the applicant to put in a wider road, he was simply asking that the right to widen the road be maintained. He noted that the applicant had discussed giving up two feet to widen the road, however the easement is well beyond two feet, and he did not want to see any building of any kind in the easement area.
Chairman Mueller asked Mr. Falstrup how he would suggest the applicant build the driveway to maintain the entire easement.
Mr. Falstrup did not think it was his responsibility to suggest how the applicant should build the driveway to maintain the required easement.
Chairman Mueller noted that in most easements that run across private properties there are things such as driveways and sidewalks that are built on the easement, and asked Mr. Falstrup if he was suggesting the driveway could not be built across the easement without retaining the right to the easement.
Mr. Falstrup answered that the applicant needed to drive across the easement to access their property, but wanted to make sure the driveway does not prevent the ability to widen the road in the future.
Mr. Dvorin (in rebuttal) stated that he was not privy to the previously proposed plans, however if any of them included putting a 30 foot or 50 foot house against the side of the street, he would fight that, as he felt it would be a worse impact than what is currently proposed.
Chairman Mueller stated that the applicant had stated he could possibly lower the roofline down approximately 12 to 14 inches, and asked if that would satisfy Mr. Dvorin’s concern.
Mr. Dvorin answered that it would not satisfy the goals he had in mind when he made the comment, but he would rather see it lowered 12 inches than not at all. He didn’t understand why the lot could not be graded down lower to lower the height of the house.
Chairman Mueller closed the public hearing.
Vice Chairman Cote asked staff to clarify Finding No. 2 of the grading permit and how staff made that finding with regards to the view analysis and the thought process involved.
Associate Planner Blumenthal explained that the proposal is within the allowable 16’/30’ building height, even though the applicant is doing some grading to build up to meet the height limitation based on the topography of the lot. Additionally, staff felt the primary view from Mr. Dvorin’s house is of the Long Beach/L.A. Harbor area, which is away from the applicant’s property.
Vice Chairman Cote asked staff how the Planning Commission could address the issues of widening the road.
Director/Secretary Rojas explained that in this situation the access is a civil matter, and if the rights regarding the easement are ambiguous it is a matter for the courts to decide. He recommended staff consult with the City Attorney to make sure the City does not take any action that would affect whatever rights exist, noting that staff does not have a copy of the easement language. He explained that the City has a code that states there will be no improvements in an easement, and one question for the City Attorney would be whether an access driveway, as prepared, would be considered an improvement.
Vice Chairman Cote asked staff to also discuss with the City Attorney if, because of the circumstances surrounding the easement and lot and that there may be no other way to access the property, would a Variance finding have to be made for a driveway beyond the 20% requirement and would the Variance finding be required to build on the slope if there was no other place to build, given this is a legal lot.
Director/Secretary Rojas answered that he would discuss these issues with the City Attorney.
Commissioner Karp felt it would have been helpful for the Planning Commission to have better data including a copy of the easement agreement and a copy of the survey showing the easements. He felt that the houses at the end of Rockinghorse Road were a disaster waiting to happen in terms of a fire hazard, as a fire engine could not even get down the road. He was concerned about the distance of the nearest fire hydrant to the property and felt the Planning Commission should address the issues. Finally, he asked staff why the plan for the house with a direct access garage was rejected by the Planning Department.
Associate Planner Blumenthal noted that the plan was never rejected by staff, explaining that when the multiple plans were presented to the Planning Department, staff had indicated to the applicant that the plan would require a Variance for the height and for the front yard setback and that the structure was partially in the easement, and therefore staff had serious concerns in supporting the application.
Commissioner Gerstner stated that his concern was that if the easement in question is to allow for the widening of the road, he did not see how the Planning Commission could approve anything that would create a situation where the easement could not be used for its intended purpose. He felt that there could be some type of compromise or solution, but that was not being presented to the Planning Commission at this time. He felt that it would be much easier for him to approve some sort of height variance to allow a larger structure built into the slope, but would still allow the widening of the road, than to approve some type of variance for the driveway which would make it difficult to widen the road in the future.
Commissioner Tetreault agreed with Commissioner Gerstner’s comments, noting that the narrow road is a real health and safety issue, and the residents must be allowed to maintain the right to widen the road at any future date. He did not feel it would be appropriate to approve the plan as submitted, not knowing the easement rights, and did not want to do anything that would impede the easement rights.
Commissioner Knight agreed, adding that he was also concerned about approving a plan with a driveway that precludes a possible implementation of an easement, and would very much like the City Attorney’s opinion on the issue. He asked staff if they could check into the native plants he found on the property.
Director/Secretary Rojas answered that this could only be done by requiring the applicant to perform a biological study.
Commissioner Knight asked that before the survey and mapping is done for the dedication of the trail easement, that the Equestrian Committee, the Open Space Task Force, and the Land Conservancy are all consulted regarding the location, width, and standards of the trail.
Vice Chairman Cote felt it was important for the staff to obtain legal advice from the City Attorney regarding the easement before making a decision on the project. She also felt that the overall square footage of the house was rather large and also had concerns regarding the mass and bulk of the house. She felt that in this situation the applicant was trying to put a large home into a very small, constrained area.
Commissioner Karp agreed that this application should be continued to allow staff to consult with the City Attorney and to collect additional information needed by the Planning Commission.
Chairman Mueller also agreed that the City Attorney should be consulted regarding the legal aspects of the easement. He was not in favor of asking the applicant to do a biological study of the property. He was not as concerned with the mass and bulk or size of the project, as there are other homes in the area that are close to the same size. He also felt that there was minimal visibility of the home from the street and that the applicant was adhering to the 16’/30’ height limits of the City. He felt that, if the item is to be continued, some type of motion should be made that will focus the Planning Commission’s concerns down to a manageable list that is approved by the majority of the Planning Commission.
Vice Chairman Cote moved to continue the item to address specific concerns including a legal analysis by the City Attorney regarding the easement and the proposed driveway improvement across that easement, alternatives if there is a problem with the proposed driveway, and for staff to work with the applicant and neighbor at 49 ½ Rockinghorse Road to analyze ways to mitigate the mass and bulk of the proposed home with the potential use of foliage to minimize the appearance, seconded by Commissioner Knight.
Commissioner Karp moved to amend the motion to for staff to discuss with the Fire Department, before the item is brought back to the Planning Commission, restraints and restrictions they may impose, seconded by Commissioner Tetreault.
Chairman Mueller asked staff at what point the Fire Department is normally contacted during the process.
Director/Secretary Rojas answered that the Fire Department is usually consulted during the Building and Safety plan check process, and as a result of that review if there is any substantive change to the approval it would come back to the Planning Commission.
Chairman Mueller asked if consulting with the Fire Department during the continuance would delay the project.
Director/Secretary Rojas felt that this could be done and brought back to the Planning Commission at the April 27 meeting.
The amendment to the motion passed, (5-1) with Chairman Mueller dissenting.
Commissioner Knight moved to amend the motion to include exploring the possibility of lowering the ridgeline of the proposed house from 4:12 to 3:12, seconded by Vice Chairman Cote. Approved, (5-1) with Chairman Mueller dissenting.
Chairman Mueller explained that he did not feel that there was a real issue with the bulk and mass of the proposed house, and was inclined not to make more stringent requirements on the applicant considering the difficulty of the lot in general.
Chairman Mueller offered a substitute motion to continue the item but to restrict the discussion to the legal analysis involved in placing the driveway across the easement and the consultation with the Fire Department, seconded by Commissioner Tetreault.
Vice Chairman Cote stated that she felt that the owner of 49 ½ Rockinghorse had a valid concern regarding the bulk and mass of the proposed house and that the issues of bulk and mass should be addressed in the motion.
Commissioner Gerstner agreed that bulk and mass should be addressed now while the issue of the easement is being explored and that he did not want to see the project come back in April and then have the issue of bulk and mass brought up.
Commissioner Tetreault stated that biggest concern at this time is regarding the legal issues of the easement, as it could make a major impact on the project, and adding something else to it broadens the scope. He felt, however, that it was beneficial to give the applicant and the appellants as much information as possible, and if the Planning Commission has concerns with bulk and mass then the applicant should know that now.
Commissioner Knight agreed stating that more direction the Planning Commission can give to the applicant will be to the benefit of the applicant.
The substitute motion failed, (1-5), with Commissioners Gerstner, Knight, Karp, Tetreault, and Vice Chairman Cote dissenting.
The amended motion to continue the item to April 27 to address specific concerns including a legal analysis by the City Attorney regarding the easement and the proposed driveway improvement across that easement, alternatives if there is a problem with the proposed driveway, and for staff to work with the applicant and neighbor at 49 ½ Rockinghorse Road to analyze ways to mitigate the mass and bulk of the proposed home with the potential use of foliage to minimize the appearance, to explore the possibility of lowering the ridgeline from 4:12 to 3:12, and to consult with the Fire Department regarding the possible need for a fire hydrant or fire sprinklers in the home was approved, (6-0).
APPROVAL OF MINUTES
6. Minutes of February 24, 2004
Vice Chairman Cote noted a correction on page 14 of the minutes.
Vice Chairman Mueller noted a correction to page 9 of the minutes, as well as page 10.
Commissioner Karp moved to approve the minutes as amended, seconded by Commissioner Knight. Approved, (6-0).
ITEMS TO BE PLACED ON FUTURE AGENDAS
Director/Secretary Rojas noted that the 16-foot height limit code amendment issue would be added to the next agenda.
The meeting was adjourned at 11:35 p.m.