Building codes on slippery slopes

At the urging of Planning Director Craig Ewing, the Planning Commission is for now putting aside discussion of any specific provisions of a proposed hillside housing ordinance, and instead is focusing on what types of hillside properties it would like to see more highly regulated.

At a special workshop last week on the proposed regulations, Ewing told commission members that now is the time to concentrate on the commission’s goals for regulating hillside housing.

“You need . . . to come to grips with what you want to do with hillside development,” said Ewing.

His comments followed a discussion with the public that ranged from the philosophy of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, to the highly detailed suggestions for legislation from another, albeit less famous one, Ed Niles.

Ewing asked commissioners to determine whether they were interested in regulating architectural style or just mass and scale on hillsides. He also told them to focus on what types of properties they want to regulate: those visible only from PCH, those visible from smaller roads or other properties, or only those situated on slopes.

Commission Chair Charleen Kabrin wavered on the issue of architectural style. She said she did not think the commission was interested in regulating style, but, on the other hand, some styles, she said, lead to larger structures. Under the city’s General Plan, she said, the commission may be approving homes that “don’t fit.”

Kabrin read from a book on architect Wright, whose philosophy on the appearance of houses, she said, summed up her sentiments as well. Quoting Wright, she said homes should be “organic” and “quiet.” And, echoing former Attorney General Ed Meese and his famous “I-know-it-when-I-see-it” definition of pornography, Kabrin said of hillside houses, “I don’t know what is right, but I know when something is not right.”

Niles recommended to the commission that any additional regulation of hillside housing should apply only to those properties with a slope over 33 percent. Regulations on those properties should include height limitations of 36 feet and a second floor limited to one-third of the total square footage of a home, he said.

If the city defined the hillside management zone by its slope characteristics, Niles said, prospective property buyers would know whether a certain lot would be subject to additional regulation. Only those over 33 percent, he said, should be reviewed by the commission. “I want it to get away from being so damn discretionary,” Niles said.

Commissioner Jo Ruggles brought copies of hillside housing ordinances from other cities as sources for drafting one for Malibu. “Let’s look at what other cities are doing,” she said. “They’re grappling with the same problems.”

Commissioner Ed Lipnick wondered why the commission was not discussing regulations that would apply city-wide, not just to hillside homes.

Kabrin said the commission was focusing on hillside homes because of their visual impact. Ewing said the regulations would be unfair to flat properties because, for instance, second floors on flat lots do not slope up.

Niles, however, said the city was acting in a discriminatory manner by not including beachfront lots in the proposed regulations.

“What about the beach?” he asked. “How come I can’t see the beach?” Niles said he thought the city is facing the prospect of a hillside property owner taking legal action against it because of its different development standards.

The next workshop on the proposed hillside regulations is today (Thursday) at 7 p.m. in City Hall.

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

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