Commission goes back to nature — sometimes

In their quest to protect Malibu hillsides from inappropriate development, Planning Commissioners clashed Monday over what is “natural” and who will be the arbiters of architectural style.

Phrases adopted for the Hillside Ordinance guidelines, such as “natural colored material” and “natural appearing vegetation” seemed to trouble commissioners Ken Kearsley and Ed Lipnick throughout the meeting. “I’m against discretion on the part of the planning department,” said Lipnick. Added Kearsley, “It basically leaves it up to a bureaucrat sitting behind a counter in City Hall to decide all the parameters [of design].”

Kearsley expressed concern that such discretion could lead to arbitrary decisions by city planners. “One person might decide ‘Yes,’ one might decide ‘No,'” he said.

As an example, Kearsley pointed out that a senior city planner who spoke last month before the commission regarding a project on Cavalleri Road considered the white color of the project’s exterior walls to be an earth tone even though most of the commissioners would disagree. “If you don’t want white walls and red tile roofs, say it specifically up front,” said Kearsley.

Regulating color to such a degree would be legal, said City Attorney Christi Hogin. Many cities place similar limitations on development, she explained. The only legal requirement is that homeowners be left with a reasonable use of their property. “There’s no constitutional right to paint your house yellow. That’s clearly established law at this point,” she concluded.

The commission adopted guidelines for retaining and free-standing walls, landscaping, exterior lighting, manufactured slopes and perimeter fencing. Clustering of structures will be encouraged in order to preserve open spaces, existing vegetation and natural features. Views of canyons, hills, knolls and promontories from streets, highways, trails and public parks will also be protected by the guidelines.

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The issues of ridge lines and window glare will be tackled at the next Planning Commission meeting, set for Nov. 16.

Existing structures will not be affected by the new guidelines. “This would only apply to new projects after the rules are in effect,” said Planning Director Craig Ewing.

In other matters, the commission unanimously denied a request to open a farmers market one morning every week at the parking lot of Bob Morris’ Beach Caf, formerly the Sandcastle, in Paradise Cove. “Our purpose is not to make money but to reinforce community spirit,” said Jim Adams, a representative of Bob Morris. Cove residents voiced concern about increased traffic and noise. Steven Kunes, president of the Cove’s homeowners association, explained that he had surveyed 78 residents and not one of them favored the open-air market. “That’s quite a percentage,” he said.

While all the commissioners wanted Malibu to have a farmers market, none of them wanted one in the Cove. “It’s a good idea but it’s in the wrong place in the wrong time,” said Kearsley.

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