The flamboyant and large need not apply

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Unable to muster a majority for hillside housing regulations that would have a sweeping impact throughout the city, the Planning Commission last week endorsed a more modest proposal by Planning Director Craig Ewing that would allow closer regulation of housing developments already covered by existing ordinances.

The commission, acting on direction of the City Council, is preparing for the council’s review of an ordinance that would require new and remodeled hillside homes to blend into the hillside’s natural terrain. The commission previously drafted a set of design guidelines regulating, among a host of design elements, the architectural style, size and color of hillside homes.

But the commission has been unable to agree on the threshold for regulation under the proposed ordinance.

Commissioner Charleen Kabrin and Commission Chair Jo Ruggles had been hoping to regulate properties on a slope as low as 10 percent or 15 percent.

Apparently fearing that Ruggles and Kabrin were bent on turning virtually all of Malibu, except for the beach, into a city on a hill, Commissioner Ken Kearsley repeatedly hammered away at their proposals.

While not as vocal as Kearsley, Vice Chair Andrew Stern and Commissioner Ed Lipnick have not expressed support for regulating lower-sloping properties.

Hoping to break through the commissioners’ stalemate, Ewing last week suggested that the existing project review procedures of the Planning Department be amended to include the design guidelines for hillside development.

Currently, any proposed housing project over 18 feet tall or on a slope greater than 33 percent must be reviewed under the department’s site plan review process. Under the site plan review, projects that would significantly impact public or private views or that would drastically alter the character of neighborhoods are not approved.

Ewing said that under his proposal, the guidelines would help him determine whether neighborhood character is affected or if public or private views are impacted. But, he said, the guidelines would not apply to homes the public can not see.

“If it’s a 22-foot structure on a flat lot surrounded by 40-foot-tall trees, I’m not going to be concerned with [the guidelines],” he said.

Ewing said he avoided the most contentious issue for the commission — the threshold for regulation — simply by not changing it.

Most of the commissioners heartily endorsed Ewing’s proposal.

“It’s a very intelligent approach to the problems we’ve been struggling with,” Lipnick said.

Kearsley said he supported Ewing’s suggestion as well. Kearsley recently studied his Sycamore Canyon neighborhood and found that most homes in the subdivision would be considered hillside housing if the threshold for regulation was as low as 10 percent or 15 percent.

We would “be using a sledgehammer to kill an ant,” he said.

Ruggles also voiced support for Ewing’s proposed ordinance, but Kabrin said she did not like that the ordinance would not apply to projects built on the flat part of a sloping lot. “That’s a major issue for me,” she said.

Ewing said his department would draft an ordinance and bring it back for a public hearing early next month. He said he hoped local architects and property owners would take the new design guidelines to heart.

“Don’t plan on building a look-at-me house, because that’s not what’s going to get approved.”