Architects decry review board


The Planning Commission unanimously approved basic goals for a future hillside management ordinance Monday while remaining sharply divided about the need for an architectural review board (ARB).

The strongest reaction against an ARB came from those few people, mostly architects, who attended the meeting. “I absolutely and unequivocally will fight you to the death” over creation of an “aesthetic guru,” threatened architect and local resident Ed Niles.

Developer Norm Haynie scoffed, a group of architects judging the designs of their colleagues would amount to a group of artists telling Vincent Van Gogh or Pablo Picasso, “Sir, heads are not square. Two eyes are not on the same side of the head. I think maybe you should consider being a brickmaker.”

An ARB would be a bad idea, according to Commissioners Ed Lipnick and Ken Kearsley. “It would only produce dissension. I think it would be a real can of worms,” said Lipnick.

A review board “might be of benefit” in cases where a project does not comply with hillside management guidelines, explained Commission Chair Charleen Kabrin. “It’s like an appeal board in a sense. I’d like to explore it further.”

The strongest advocate for an ARB was Commissioner Jo Ruggles. She envisioned a board composed of local architects who would review preliminary design ideas of architects from out of town “to get them pointed in the right direction,” adding, “it’s my intent that it be flexible.”

Commissioner Andrew Stern remained on the fence about a review board. “I’m not there yet. I don’t know absolutely yea or nay.”

Despite the different opinions regarding an ARB, the commission agreed that something needs to be done to control hillside development.

“There’s a need to have a change in the way we’re thinking in order to protect why we moved here to Malibu,” said Stern.

“One consistent comment I’ve heard, ‘There’s excess,'” commented Kabrin. “If people are left to do as they want, what we’re left with is excessive, intrusive, imposing and abusive. Mostly size is what people were objecting to.”

If there is no review board, then the commission would have to write hillside development specifications as tightly as possible, said Kearsley. For now, though, the commission approved only general goals to work with in the future, notably minimizing visibility of structures, protecting views of the hill and retaining landscape features.

“It’s a structure with which they can better debate the issues,” explained Planning Director Craig Ewing. “There’s still a lot of refinement to do.”

One way to refine the issues, according to local architect Lester Tobias, would be to create different zones on the hillside. Since the main concern is visual impact, those structures closest to “view corridors,” primarily PCH, would be more restricted in terms of design. Haynie agreed, noting, “The only time people are concerned about [development] is when they can see the size.”

Approval of basic goals may not seem like much on paper, but the commission’s decision represents a major shift in Malibu’s history, according to Ewing. “This city is going from a rural environment to a semi-rural environment. It’s a huge change in terms of visual character, perceived density and community identity.”