Car washers soft-soap commission

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A car wash business, located next to the Malibu Country Mart, now has a bit more elbow room. The Malibu Planning Commission voted to allow the hand wash and detail operation to “spot check” cars in four parking spaces that had previously been used only for parking the freshly washed cars.

The decision came after much debate about past code violations by the business. According to a staff report, the car wash has received violation notices for activities found to be in conflict with the business’s Conditional Use Permit. Those violations include using designated parking-only spaces to detail vehicles, using up to 14 parking spaces for the business when the most allowed was seven, and placing illegal “no parking” signs on trash containers. The operation was also found to have occupied its office building before it was permitted.

“You guys are working in violation of your Conditional Use Permit,” said Commissioner Ed Lipnick, who said he recently visited the site and saw someone buffing a car in one of the spaces designated for parking only.

“No matter how we condition this project, it’s not going to work,” said Commissioner Jo Ruggles. “This business is too successful for its location. They do excellent work, but we can’t tolerate code violations either.”

Commissioner Andrew Stern said he had recently visited the business on a Saturday and found the applicant working on eight cars simultaneously.” “No matter what condition is placed on this business, the applicant doesn’t seem to be playing by the rules,” Stern said.

“Code enforcement is expensive in any city,” said Commissioner Ken Kearsley. Kearsley said the business does fine work and is well respected but added that work “must be restricted to the original bays.”

Previously, work had been restricted to three stalls. Car wash owner Justin Silvers said he wanted to be able to “spot check” vehicles in the four parking spaces adjacent to the office structure that have been used for the parking of cars after they were washed. According to Alan Block, attorney for Silvers, spot checking would include “dusting, dressing tires, cleaning windows and occasionally vacuuming the interior of automobiles.”

“Frankly, that sounds like detailing to me,” said Planning Director Craig Ewing. “The more spaces you give them, the bigger parking problem there will be.”

“Ninety percent of the business is for people who are already visiting other tenants at the shopping center,” said Block, adding that his client was not trying to expand his business.

The staff recommended the commission deny the requested expansion of the use. A motion to approve the staff recommendation died for lack of a second. So did a motion to send the matter back to staff to allow work in five spaces. Finally, a motion did pass that allows work to be done in the existing seven stalls and designates three additional spaces for parking only. The vote was 4-1, Kearsley opposed.

Silvers said he wants to put an additional tent or canopy over four spaces. In order to do that, he must obtain a variance.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the planning staff asked the commission for input in order to move toward a regulatory process for development. One issue discussed was the definition of a “basement.” Currently, a room, or rooms, is considered a basement if it sits deeper into the ground than it sticks up. The current definition allows for the averaging of walls and for openings such as garage doors.

Planning staff suggested a new definition in which no more than three feet of any basement wall be above ground. “If the floor above is no more than three feet above grade, then the basement is a basement and not counted as a story,” said Ewing. Each wall must comply, which would do away with the averaging of walls. Also, the basement “can’t project beyond the perimeter of the first floor,” Ewing added. “That will make people who want basements push them down.”

Floor area requirements will be more strict as well. Currently, there is no limit on the square-footage of basements. A basement can be as large or larger than the footprint of the house and not count toward the maximum square-footage for development. The consensus reached by the commissioners will allow people to exempt 300 square feet of basement space from the total square footage. Every square foot over that will count toward total development.

Planning staff will draft an ordinance amendment for the zoning code and will likely bring it back to the commission in September or early October.