The California Coastal Commission last week granted a new zoning designation for a Malibu property that likely will never see any development at all because it is so constrained. The commission’s decision at its meeting in Marina Del Rey to change the zoning of a 12,750-square foot lot next to Duke’s Malibu from commercial visitor-serving to single-family residential overturned the Malibu City Council’s 2008 decision to designate it as multifamily use. An environmental activist wanted to keep the property available for visitors.
The subject property is located almost entirely in the Las Flores Creek floodplain. Also, three public access easements limit the developable size, if there is any development opportunity at all. Coastal staff estimated less than 2,500 square feet of the area could be developed. Susan McCabe, an attorney for property owner Ralph Herzig, said her client wants to eventually merge the site with an adjacent property he owns that was formerly home to the Albatross restaurant. That site in 2006 was rezoned from commercial visitor-serving to multifamily use. The idea is he likely would not build on the flood channel lot, but with a larger merged property, he could possibly build more on the Albatross site than he would have been able to do without the merger.
Although the issue of what could be built on either property was not on the table, this became part of the discussion during the meeting.
“As far as I can tell, it’s impossible to build on,” Commissioner Mary Shallenberger said of the flood channel site. “The owner of the land could sell it and we’d be facing a taking issue [if a proposal to build on that property were denied by a future owner] … It’s very important that we get that flood channel to be part of a larger lot.”
A frequent critic of what she perceives as Malibu’s lack of coastal public access opportunities, Shallenberger said, “I regret losing a zoning of visitor serving to residential. But I think if it results in getting a lot, which is clearly not buildable, kind [of] off the record and onto a bigger lot that this is clearly the right thing to do.”
Malibu Planning Manager Joyce Parker-Bozylinski said at the meeting the property should be zoned multifamily because the Albatross site received that designation, and the designation would be consistent with the area, which is made up of commercial and multifamily lots. But she agreed that does not necessarily mean anything could actually be built on the flood channel site. She went into technical reasons why it would be better than the coastal staff’s recommendation for single-family use.
Environmentalist Marcia Hanscom, who represented the Coastal Law Enforcement Action Network, said she disagreed with the city and coastal staff. She wanted the property to be kept visitor serving and hoped that a government agency or nonprofit could purchase it to make it a place for outdoor use.
“We believe that this property should be acquired for the public, and with all the things happening with sea level rise, this is an accident waiting to happen if you approve these multifamily parcels,” Hanscom said.
Several commissioners said she raised a good point, but none voted for her recommendation.
An application for a private stairwell on a coastal bluff off Westward Beach was scheduled for Coastal Commission consideration, but was removed from the agenda. A message left for the coastal staff planner assigned to the item was not returned.