The shoe was on the other foot for Andrew Stern, chair of the Malibu Planning Commission Monday. He appeared not as a judge but as a supplicant, asking the commission to grant him a variance so he might build a house on a 30-foot-wide lot in Point Dume.
Stern told his colleagues the proposed house on Sea Level Drive “ain’t a mansion.” The two-story house covers 2,509 square feet, not counting the basement.
Prior to the 4-0 vote granting variances in the zoning code, Stern described the house as the smallest one to come before the commission during his tenure. “All I’m asking for is the right to build to the neighborhood standards.”
“It’s a sloping site. We had nowhere else to go,” said architect Lester Tobias in explaining a design that burrows into the hillside. He noted the facade shifts away from the street to avoid interference with the neighbor’s view. In a tongue-in-cheek monologue, Tobias described his client as “one of the most powerful men in the state of California,” and questioned whether the commissioners fear they will be setting a dangerous precedent. He noted the property includes a second story to permit a bedroom at the rear, a basement with a bathroom and a retaining wall in excess of six feet on the west side.
The property sits on a lot some 30 feet wide with slopes in excess of 2-1/2: 1. Absent a variance, the second story violates the rule that the higher floor be only two-thirds the square footage below. Tobias stressed that the design has already received the approval of the homeowners association and the Escondido Beach architectural review board. Brandishing a shoe and a shoe horn, he described the house as “a great fit for this street.”
Dixie Moore, a resident of Latigo Canyon, praised the design but expressed her concern that others will get the same consideration when they seek approval for innovative designs. Kaye Ferguson of South Zuma View said the project was beautifully designed for a unique lot. She said the two-thirds rule is not suited to sloping lots.
In explaining his vote to permit the variances, Commissioner Ken Kearsley remarked, “One size does not fit all.” Commissioner Jo Ruggles said the two-thirds rule is designed to prevent square boxes, and essentially the same design was approved for the house next door to Stern’s lot. As for Stern’s desire to protect his neighbor’s view, Ruggles said the sentiment was “amazing,” and confessed she wouldn’t have been so generous if placed in the same situation.
Commissioner Charleen Kabrin said the construction of a bathroom in the basement creates habitable space, but she said her problem was with the zoning code, rather than with the Stern project. She added it would be punitive for the commission to reject these plans when it had approved the similar project next door.
In other business, the Planning Commission’s grant of plans by Barbra Streisand for a new home on Zumirez Drive has been appealed to the City Council. A hearing date has not been set.