Planners adopt stringline definition

Planning Commissioners seemed overjoyed to adopt a method of applying the stringline rule suggested by local developer and engineer Norm Haynie.

After a 1-1/2 hour discussion highlighted by a presentation by former mayor John Harlow, and a plea by Malibu Road resident Elliot Megdal — “Whatever you decide, make it concise and nonpolitical” — the averaging method suggested by Haynie won out over the one suggested by Malibu architect Ron Goldman. Goldman’s memo to the commission suggests his method would not have solved all problems.

Haynie’s formula includes “only portions of the deck that are located seaward of the most seaward 25 percent of the home.” Planning Director Craig Ewing had noted Coastal Commission policy weighs the majority of the deck more than its little pieces. In response, Haynie said, “The Coastal Commission is very big on protecting public views but ignores protecting private views.”

“We have been looking for a solution to have parity and equity. Every decision we have made has been discretionary,” said Commissioner Jo Ruggles. “This is the first concept using math that is fair and equitable. This solves most problems we run into.”

The commissioners voted unanimously to use Draft Local Coastal Plan Policy 396 (as modified in several Planning Commission meetings) as the basis of the definition of the stringline.

The commissioners then voted 4-1 in favor of incorporating Haynie’s calculations into that policy. Commissioner Charleen Kabrin said she wanted calculation examples to take in more scenarios than the four presented by Haynie. “I would need to see it tested in different examples to see if it would be equitable,” she said. “Some beaches are curved, and the tide line drifts. I just know how many exceptions there are.”

Assistant Planner Glenn Michitsch is to bring back to the commission the finally revised definition, and Haynie is to bring back more calculation scenarios.

According to the Haynie formula, the “average seaward extension” of a deck (the average distance from the street right-of-way to the seaward edge of the deck) shall be calculated for each of the two nearest beach homes to the left and right of the subject parcel. There will be four average distances for the four existing beach homes.

The four average distances will be added together and then divided by four to establish the “Permissible Seaward Extension” of the deck. There are two exceptions (if any of the four homes has an Average Seaward Deck Extension more than 10 percent greater or more than 10 percent shorter than the Permissible Seaward Extension) and alternative calculations for those exceptions.

Procedural history

This rule of thumb for determining how far beachfront homes and decks can extend seaward had been a problem since cityhood. The goals of the stringline are to develop an absolute limit to seaward-encroaching development on beachfront lots, to prevent development from “leapfrogging” further seaward than the existing development pattern and to allow reasonable development consistent with existing development patterns, says the staff report.

Based on information provided to the City Council by its Land Use Subcommittee, the council initiated a zone text amendment Sept. 13, the staff report continues. Following a Nov. 1 public workshop discussing applications of the rule and discussion of three alternatives brought back by staff to the Nov. 15 public hearing, the Planning Commission approved three motions.

One involved adopting a modified version of Draft Local Coastal Program Policy 396 as a base for defining the rule.

A second motion involved removing the hardship (variance) provision from the rule.

The third integrated the phrases “except for Beachfront on Beachfront lots” into Section 9.3.02(A) and Section 9.03.02(B) of the Zoning Ordinance. This rectified the problem of the ordinance allowing fences, pools, overhangs and other structures to extend beyond the stringline.

The Nov. 15 motions addressed problems in applying the rule, but did not resolve the main problem of where to draw the stringline, the staff report says. The motions and staff’s suggestion of a “tiered-review” process were discussed at a Dec. 6 public hearing, but no further action was taken on the zone text amendment.

Two options for drawing the stringline have been presented, said the staff report: adopting LCP Policy 396 as approved, and modifying it to define a stringline as “a line drawn between the furthest seaward corner of the adjacent house or deck.”

A Dec. 11 letter to the commission from Commissioner Andrew Stern recommended more refinement of LCP Policy 396 to address “unusual corners.”

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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