Council ups planning fees

If you’re looking to build or remodel in Malibu, you may want to take a look at a new sign that hangs in City Hall. It notes changes to planning fees that were approved at Monday’s City Council meeting.

Last November, the council directed staff to review and update the fees charged to applicants for planning approvals and to compare those fees with those charged by other cities.

In a staff report, Planning Director Craig Ewing explained that the fee schedule was analyzed from two perspectives. One compared them with the fees of other cities. The second assessed the actual staff hours and resources expended on projects. In his staff report Ewing noted, “Staff believes that the second analysis is most important, in that we want to know we are collecting enough money to fully cover our expenses.” Ewing explained that staff’s objective is to be self-funding — that is, to set fees so that no General Fund money is spent to support the development review process.

Under the new schedule, some fees have been increased and others decreased. The biggest jump was the Major Residential Plot Plan fee, which rose from $810 to $1,365. “That’s our basic application,” said Ewing. “That’s where we do all our coordinating and all our basic zoning work.”

Staff noted that fees were increased because they require more time than previously estimated. Those that were raised include: Master Sign Permits, Lot Line Adjustments, Minor Commercial Plot Plan Review, Tentative Tract Maps and Wireless Facilities Review.

Other applications were determined to require less time than previously thought, and these fees were reduced. They include: Major Commercial Plot Plan Review, Minor Sign Modifications, Zoning and General Plan Amendments, Minor Conditional Use Permits, Tentative Parcel Maps and Archaeology Phase II.

Add-on applications, such as Minor Modifications, Neighborhood Standards and Variances, were also reduced. The Site Plan Review fee, used by people who want a building more than 18 feet in height, was lowered from $975 to $655. This may help offset the Major Residential Plot Plan fee increase. “Most people will come in for both of those,” said Ewing.

As for the comparison, staff determined that while Malibu’s rates were within the range of surveyed cities, they were on the high end. Ewing said that’s because of the city’s complex zoning rules. “We coordinate, in the planning department, more interdepartmental review than any city I’m aware of,” said Ewing. Those reviews include soils and geology, archaeology, environmental resources and zoning.

Ewing said the new fee schedule has been adjusted to ensure that people aren’t being overcharged when requesting more than one review.

Also at that meeting, the council accepted a staff recommendation to “grandfather” in nonpermitted projects but called for creation of an amnesty system under which people without current permits could get them. The council directed staff to provide an amnesty plan for homeowners who voluntarily come in to get their structure legally permitted.

“If it meets all the old county zoning, they’ll be clear of planning,” said Ewing. But the zoning code is different from the building code, which deals with structural things and safety issues. Ewing pointed out that the buildings will not be automatically grandfathered under the old county building code. The buildings will still need a building permit “so that they build the safest structure under the current building rules.”

Volunteers who come forward will pay the usual fee for a permit. Violators are usually charged twice the fee. Ewing said the amnesty program could affect a large number of residents. “We have people telling us that up to half of the homes in the community could have some kind of nonpermitted work done on them,” Ewing said. “We don’t know how much of that is illegal work and how much is just poor county records.”

The staff is expected to bring the amnesty proposal back to the council next month.

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

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