Lighted tennis courts are probably out

The Planning Commission Monday got a first peek at the finishing touches proposed for the city’s interim zoning ordinance, in preparation for the code’s conversion to the official Malibu zoning ordinance after more than six years as a provisional law. The changes, proposed by the planning staff, were mainly of a grammatical and organizational nature, but also included two substantive revisions that were rejected after Commissioner Jo Ruggles raised strong objections to them.

In the code section dealing with the permitting requirements for fences and walls, the planning staff proposed also requiring homeowners to obtain a permit before planting a hedge. The staff recommended that densely planted, nonpermeable hedges be no higher than 42 inches.

Ruggles said she did not believe residents would even consider the necessity of obtaining a permit before planting that type of landscaping, and she convinced her fellow commissioners to delete the permitting requirement.

“People are not going to come in to get a permit for a hedge,” she said, adding, “I’m more concerned about people chopping trees down than in putting in a hedge.”

The staff also recommended allowing new lighted sports courts in single-family and rural residential zones. The proposed revision, which would have required homeowners to seek a conditional use permit, was also deleted after Ruggles argued the commission would not grant the necessary permit for the courts because, she said, they are not allowed in single-family and rural residential zones.

None of the remaining commissioners disputed Ruggles’ assertion, so Planning Director Craig Ewing told them that if they expected not to grant any conditional use permits, they should remove lighted courts as a permissible use for the zones.

“Rather than take people through a process when they’re automatically going to be rejected, it would be better to remove it,” said Ewing.

While Ruggles recently finished her tenure as chair of the commission, she continues to drive much of the debate at commission meetings. She dominated the discussion at Monday’s workshop on the zoning code changes proposed to date. She also pressed Ewing to prepare additional amendments to the zoning code, including proposed ordinances regulating exterior home lighting and protecting trees.

But Ewing said he would wait until instruction from the City Council before allocating time to prepare new zoning amendments. He said he is working on a list of priorities assigned by the council and needed its endorsement before he tackled additional assignments.

“The council wants to know its priorities are being followed,” he said. “I want the items on a priority list before I spend precious resources working on it.”

Ruggles countered she did not believe the tree preservation ordinance would take a long time to prepare, but Ewing disagreed. He said the ordinance would be a “hot” issue that would require a lot of staff time because of its proposed requirement that homeowners obtain a permit before trimming or cutting down trees.

“When it’s a policy decision that’s an entirely new initiative, I’m going to be protective of the council’s prerogative,” said Ewing.

When Ewing later asked what he should tell the council about the commission’ s legislative priorities, Ruggles jumped in to repeat her requests for the lighting and tree preservation ordinances, and the rest of the commission deferred to her request.

The planning staff has scheduled additional workshops and hearings on the proposed changes to the zoning ordinance, which is expected to be finalized and passed as the city’s official zoning code next January.

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

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