Planning Commission approves private road, decision appealed


The commission also approved permits for a water treatment facility at Paradise Cove and a project to restore Zuma Creek.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

A shorthanded Planning Commission last week on Tuesday approved the request by a member of the rock band U2 for a private access street above Sweetwater Mesa Road in Serra Retreat. The local homeowners association, which fears the road could lead to a mountainside thoroughfare, among other issues it has with the project, filed an appeal on Monday.

David Evans, better known to music fans as The Edge, is the third property owner to attempt to build the nearly 1,700-foot-long, 20-foot-wide road since 1999. The project has been through a series of public hearings and lawsuits. The road is needed to access five undeveloped parcels located up the mountainside in unincorporated county land. Applications to build homes on those lots have been submitted to the California Coastal Commission. The area for the road is located within the city and is the only portion of the development over which the city has authority.

Evans owns at least one of the parcels, the one closest to Sweetwater Mesa Road. Jim Smith, who lives just below the properties, said Evans introduced himself recently as a future neighbor. It has not been publicly revealed who Evans’ partners are, or if he has any. Attorney Stan Lamport, who represents the project ownership, said he is not sure who the specific people involved are, and that it is various companies that own the lots. Don Schmitz, a planning consultant who is listed as the project applicant, said he is “fairly certain” the owners know each other.

Commissioners Jeff Jennings and Ed Gillespie approved the permit request. Commissioner John Mazza voted against it. Commissioners Joan House and Regan Schaar did not attend the meeting. The permit includes variances for excess grading, retaining walls higher than six feet and construction on steep slopes. The appeal will go before the City Council. The project site is located outside the area that can be appealed to the Coastal Commission. The only way anyone could challenge the council decision would be through a lawsuit.

A long list of conditions were added to the permit, including that the private road could never be extended to connect with Piuma Road to the north, with the consequence of doing so being a permit revocation.

“It’s [filing of the appeal] very disappointing in the sense that the conditions are as ironclad as any I have ever seen in any jurisdiction,” Schmitz said after the meeting.

But Smith, who has led the challenge of the Serra Retreat homeowners against the project, said the conditions do not guarantee anything. The project ownership has obtained a series of easements on the stretch of land above the parcels heading toward Piuma Road, mostly for utility installment purposes. The ownership does not have easements all the way to Piuma Road. However, Smith said property owners living near Piuma Road could try to complete the connection, and then gain a speedy access all the way down through Serra Retreat and onto Pacific Coast Highway. If they completed the connection, they would need to obtain easements onto the future private road to gain the access to Serra Retreat. They would likely need to file a lawsuit to gain those easements. But Smith said it could be a winnable venture.

“They [the property owners to the north] would have a strong argument in court,” Smith said.

Smith and others in Serra Retreat are also troubled by the large amount of grading required to build the private road and the homes.”If he [Evans] would stay with just his own house, and build a small road to connect to it, that would be fine,” Smith said. “That’s not going to involve cutting up the mountain.”

An eight-page appeal was submitted to the city on Monday written by attorney Fred Gaines, who represents the Serra Canyon Property Owners Association. Among the issues raised in the appeal is that an environmental impact review should be done for the project that includes an analysis of the proposed homes. Gaines raised this issue during last week’s meeting. Lamport said in response at the meeting that “the law is clear” that since the city only has authority over the road construction, it could not do an EIR that included the homes over which it has no authority.

Also at the meeting, the commission unanimously approved two permits for city projects. One is for the construction of a water treatment plant at Paradise Cove. The other is for the restoration of Zuma Creek.