Commission settles Latigo Beach dispute

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The Malibu Planning Commission last week, in a 3-2 vote, put to rest a problem perplexing it for the past year. Two partially constructed oceanfront homes on Latigo Beach were framed, enclosed and inspected by the city before it was discovered that their ocean sides were too high.

The applicant said the height resulted from a mistake and applied for a variance to allow completion. Opponents argue it was intentional and the homes should be torn down.

If the approval of height variances on the already framed structures are appealed to the City Council, Councilman Walt Keller may find himself in a dilemma. A 25-year-old dispute between the developer, Russell Shears, and his former neighbor in Encinal Canyon, Keller, should cause Keller to recuse himself, the Shears say.

The neighborhood dispute involved questions about parking and were eventually resolved over Keller’s objections. Keller said in response, “I was never involved in the dispute.”

At their Jan. 18 meeting, commissioners approved variances for the project, 5-0, allowing the height of the two half-constructed, single-family homes at 26520 and 26524 Latigo Shore Drive to exceed the city’s 24-foot height limit. Planners justified the variance because of the special circumstances of the slope, even though an inaccurate survey, showing a lower elevation, had been submitted to the city.

At the next commission meeting, Feb. 1, the approval was brought back as a consent item, but two planning commissioners changed their position.

Attorney Frank Angel, appearing in opposition to the project, warned during public comment that approval would encourage violations of the code if they could be remedied by after-the-fact variances. The commission, however, maintained its approval, but this time by a 3-2 vote, Commissioners Jo Ruggles and Charleen Kabrin dissenting.

Referring to the fact that the variances were granted after construction had begun, Angel said, “You are riding roughshod over the public if you grant variances after the fact. The public has a right to comment before the project is built. You are saying that there are architects who can get away with everything.”

Angel also represents Gil Segel in a stringline dispute with a neighbor about a house designed by Michael Barsocchini, who is also the architect of the Shears projects.

Bert Kelly, who lives adjacent to the Shears projects, and who last month was quoted by Shears’ attorney Alan Block as supporting the variance, seemed to be speaking both in favor of the Shears and the opposition. He called for closure.

“This has been a long project,” Kelly said. “I don’t appreciate my property losing value because the project is not built correctly. We want the building to be finished. There are homeless people and students using the property to hang out.

“The architect has designed all the homes on the street,” Kelly continued. “I believe he knew the height problem from the get-go.”

Ruggles, in explaining her change of position, said she had been “hammered” for the findings of special circumstances and therefore moved to rescind the resolution and send the matter back to the City Council. “I think we are on shaky ground,” she said.

Planning Commission Chair Ken Kearsley, Vice Chair Ed Lipnick and Commissioner Andrew Stern, however, overruled the Ruggles motion seconded by Kabrin.

“I don’t want to go through this again,” said Stern. “We have discussed this to death.”