Commission faces setbacks, votes for ease


The Planning Commission is working to make the process of building or modifying a home easier and less costly by allowing more flexibility in front-yard setbacks.

Commissioners voted Monday to recommend to the City Council a plan that would allow the planning staff to grant minor modifications to front-yard setbacks of up to 50 percent. Currently, a modification of only 20 percent is allowed. The idea is to streamline the process for property owners and to make it less expensive. “They’ll be able to get relief from front setbacks at lower costs and with a simpler burden of proof,” said Planning Director Craig Ewing.

Presently, to get a front setback reduction of more than 20 percent, a zoning variance is required. To get such a variance, a hardship must be established. That means a property owner must prove there is an unusual size, shape or characteristic of the property that makes it difficult to comply with the existing setback line. When applying for a minor modification, the owner need only show it is “compatible with the neighborhood,” said Ewing.

Ewing said the plan, if adopted by the City Council, would provide the greatest benefit to property owners in existing, established neighborhoods. Notice to the neighbors would still be required and neighbors would have the right of appeal to the Planning Commission. “It provides more flexibility,” said Ewing. “It’s still the community’s decision to decide how much relief and leeway they want to grant to property owners and what the rules should be for new development.”

In other business, the commission considered a request by a property owner who had been ordered, by the commission, to remove part of a building that encroaches on the adjacent property owner’s land. The commission had approved a tentative parcel map for the conversion of a 10-unit apartment building on Pacific Coast Highway into four condominium units. A portion of the building, built in 1954, encroaches on the adjacent property. The commission ordered the removal of the encroaching part of the building before the map could be recorded. Because removal of the building would be costly, the property owner is asking the commission to make that condition more flexible. He wants the option of a lot line adjustment.

“That encroachment has existed ever since the building was built in 1954,” said Allen Block, who represents the applicant. Block said his client has filed a lawsuit asking for an exclusive easement. He said he is hopeful the courts will grant the easement or redraw the property line. The owner also asked for the expiration date of the map to be extended for one year to allow for the time it will take for the matter to be settled.

Stephen Preston, who owns the adjacent property, said he offered to sell the land under the encroachment for the same price he paid. He said the building owner refused. “He came last year and got an extension and we just went backwards on the thing,” Preston said.

“I don’t see any forward motion or movement since last year,” said Commissioner Jo Ruggles. “I’m sorry this can’t be mutually agreed upon. . . . It’s in court and it really doesn’t matter what we say.”

“To go against it would be in effect to decide the case in Mr. Preston’s favor,” said Commissioner Ed Lipnick.

The commissioners voted in favor of the request.

The commission also heard a request for a variance to allow conversion of a three-unit apartment building on Malibu Road to a four-unit condominium and for a reduction in the required number of off-site parking spaces for the project.

“This situation exists up and down Malibu Road and I don’t believe that it would be fair to not allow my property the same privilege that’s allowed up and down the road,” said property owner Andy Gombiner. Attorney Richard Scott cited the Brian Fox variance as setting a precedent. “Off-site parking has been a rationale for approving variances for reduced parking in the city,” he said.

The planning staff had opposed the request, stating that the site is not physically suitable for the proposed density of development and that the design of the development could cause serious public health hazards because the additional parking demand would force cars to be parked off site, causing a further overcrowding of the road. Lipnick said he supported the staff’s decision because, “There is no off-site parking directly across from the subject property.” Lipnick said road shifting prevents parking on part of the street.

Staff also recommended that the request to convert from three units to four be denied. According to the staff report, “The granting of the variance could be detrimental to the public interest safety, health or welfare and it may be detrimental or injurious to the property or improvements in the same vicinity.” The report stated there were no hardships or exceptional characteristics applicable to the property and that the granting of the variance would constitute a special privilege to the property owner.

The commission voted to uphold the recommendations of the staff.