Malibu Remodel Standards in Limbo

Malibu Planning Director Joyce Parker-Bozylinski is set to retire at the end of 2014, after serving at the helm of the planning department on and off for 20 years in a city known for complex development standards and requirements.

And though her run is nearly over, the planning department is still grappling with big questions over the city’s residential remodeling standards. 

According to numbers compiled by Parker-Bozylinski in early November, the number of permit applications for residential remodels came in at only 66 for 2014, down from 78 in 2013 and 74 in 2012 (see chart, p. A10).

Of this year’s remodels, four fall into the category of Coastal Development Permits, meaning they are extensive enough to warrant review by the City Planning Commission. 

This category of remodel has drawn attention from city staff, since wording in the city’s policy has spelled confusion for developers who believe it allows for favoritism or bias.

“A written policy would help staff in minimizing arguments with applicants and architects and it will help with the false notion that the policy may be applied differently to different parties,” Senior Planner Adrian Fernandez said at the Oct. 28 Zoning Ordinance Revisions and Code Enforcement (ZORACES) Subcommittee meeting.

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The current Local Coastal Plan allows for remodels so long as “50 percent of the exterior walls of the existing structure must remain.” It’s this “50 percent rule” that’s drawn confusion, and which, according to Parker-Bozylinski, is set to be clarified in early 2015. 

“A lot of the remodels that we’re seeing now are not the people that live here forever; it’s generally new owners and they want to … design their house the way they want it, which makes perfectly good sense,” said Parker-Bozylinski at the October meeting, adding, “so … it’s the exception to the rule that we get just a simple remodel.”

According to staffers, the current interpretation of the rule helps homeowners avoid bringing their older houses up to new codes, while still allowing them the luxury of what is basically a new house.

“We’re sort of letting somebody build what’s essentially a new building and not bring it up to code,” Parker-Bozylinski said at the meeting.

By the numbers, the type of remodel described by Parker-Bozylinski has gone down in recent years, as has the building of new homes on previously developed parcels (meaning a homeowner tore down the previous home). 

In 2012, 17 new houses were built in Malibu: seven on brand new undeveloped parcels and 10 where a previous house had stood. In comparison, by early December 2014, 11 new houses were built in Malibu: four on brand new parcels and seven where a previous house had been.

As Parker-Bozylinski steps down from her post as Planning Director, the department will continue to work on clarifying the code. 

“I think one of the challenges in 2015 will be the review and approval of a comprehensive Zoning Code Update that is currently underway. The next step after the code update will be to update the Local Coastal Program consistent with the zoning code,” said Parker-Bozylinski.

According to City Manager Jim Thorsen, the application deadline for Parker-Bozylinski’s replacement has closed and applications are currently under review, with no exact deadline for the announcement of a new head of the department.

“I’m just hoping to hire the right person for the job and there’s no set goal time for when that needs to be done,” Thorsen said.

If no one is hired by Jan. 1, the first day after Parker-Bozylinski’s official final day in office, Thorsen said there’s no reason to be concerned.

“The staff is well seasoned and we’ve got Bonnie Blue, our planning manager, and several senior level planners so we’re in good shape. But we’ll be looking to fill that position as soon as we can,” Thorsen said.

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