Residents’ concerns stall Seaboard Road project

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Concerned about environmental and safety impacts, residents persuade the city council to take another look at the more than 10,000-square-foot home.

By Olivia Damavandi / Staff Writer

After hours of deliberation at its Monday night meeting, the Malibu City Council neither approved nor denied an application to allow construction of a proposed four-property Seaboard Road development located off Big Rock Drive, or two appeals filed against it.

Instead, agreeing the project needed further evaluation, the council unanimously directed staff to prepare an environmental impact report to address the project’s effects on the existing road, the possibility for a narrower road to be built and potential impacts on the storm water drainage in the Big Rock area.

The application, submitted by Lynn Heacox on behalf of property owner Diane Breitman, requests approval of a coastal development permit to allow for the construction of a 28-foot-high, two-story, 10,517-square-foot single-family residence with a basement, pool and tennis court, among other amenities, on one of four project lots totaling 32 acres.

Local residents say that the area is not fit to handle such a large construction project, and are concerned about the impacts of large trucks traveling on the narrow Seaboard Road, as well as other impacts such as water runoff in a landslide sensitive area.

The decision highlights a situation in which council members must consider the public safety of residents and the legal rights of property owners, with a staff recommendation to deny the appeals and approve the project. Thus, council members struggled to approach the issue in a way that took all concerns under equal consideration.

“I don’t think we can say you can’t build a house because it would be too destructive to the neighborhood, but you have to do it in a way that minimizes the impacts and inconveniences to the neighborhood,” City Attorney Christi Hogin said at the meeting.

“This is really hard because were looking at the laws, but on the flipside we’re envisioning the horror that’s going to go on with the trucks [and construction process],” Mayor Andy Stern said at the meeting. “I know you talk about mitigation but the reality is making it work. If I lived on that street and I had to hold up for a bunch of dump trucks, I’d be pissed.

“It’s going to be a huge impact; the dirt, the dust,” Stern said. “It’s the impacts on the neighborhood we are all struggling with.”

The existing unpaved access road to the property is approximately 2,590 feet long and is proposed to be improved and widened to 20 feet within the existing 40-foot wide right-of-way to comply with Los Angeles County Fire Department standards.

The application also requests variances for construction on slopes steeper than city code allows, retaining walls more than six feet in height to widen the access road, a reduction in the required scrub and riparian buffers for development in Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHA) and a lot line adjustment for the four properties involved.

“What I’d like to encourage you to do is rely on the experts,” project applicant Reid Brightman told the council. “The experts are your planning staff, the city geologist, all the numerous expert reports that we’ve paid for and submitted to the city. They all say this project complies with everything and that it’s geologically stable.”

The Planning Division conducted an initial study on potential impacts of the proposed development, and did not require an environmental impact report because the study did not produce environmental impacts that could not be mitigated. As of yet, the proposed development’s mitigated negative declaration states that no such impacts exist.

One appeal, however, filed Oct. 17, 2008 by Big Rock resident Al Broussard on behalf of Seaboard Road residents, claims the project requires an EIR because the variance findings are inadequate and because the negative declaration insufficiently assesses issues related to construction-caused issues such as noise, air quality and traffic safety.

Of particular concern to many residents, including Public Safety Commissioner Carol Randall, is how the project, which proposes approximately 50,000 square feet of concrete paving on rural land, will affect the drainage of storm water throughout the area, given Big Rock’s susceptibility to land slides. Councilmember Jefferson Wagner agreed with Randall.

“We have 50,000 square feet of non-permeable surface that’s going to receive an inch or two of [rain] water in an hour,” Wagner said at the meeting. “We’re talking about an awful lot of water, and physics tells me and common sense tells me that there’s no way you’re going to mitigate that kind of water accumulation with a set of drains going downhill because gravity’s still taking it down to [Pacific Coast Highway].

“I’m worried about the people down the canyon and on PCH who are going to see those accumulated waters during high rain periods,” Wagner said.

City Contract Planner Vance Pomeroy told the council that though the drainage is not “detailed out” in the staff report, it would be part of the applicant’s storm water plan, but the council deemed it necessary for staff to further evaluate the matter.

The other major concern that will be addressed in the EIR is whether Seaboard Road, which houses 31 homes, is equipped to handle any possible damage that might result from construction of the project, and whether the applicant should be required to construct a separate access road as an alternative.

“It’s not a well-engineered road designed for huge trucks in large numbers,” Councilmember John Sibert said at the meeting. “I would need the input of the folks that have taken a hard look at it.”

The other appeal, filed by project applicant Heacox on Oct. 9, 2008, claims the Planning Commission’s decision that the project must comply with current basement standards is illegal because city staff had determined that the file for the residence was complete two days before the enactment of a basement ordinance on Oct. 27, 2004. The ordinance reduced basement sizes to minimize applicants’ ability to make them livable spaces and exclude them from total square footage of their developments.

Though the application was deemed complete on Oct. 25, 2008, no action was taken because the city was not yet issuing coastal development permits. The Planning Commission also stated that the final design of the basement would have to comply with the standards set at the time the project reached approval.

Reid Brightman told the council he would lose valuable storage area under the ordinance. “This is a house for my family, and I’d like keep my basement,” he said.