Council rejects one house per five acres

The City Council Monday unanimously rejected a landowner’s request that the General Plan Land Use Map be amended to permit the construction of 13 homes on a 125-acre tract on Latigo Canyon Road. The site is on the northeast side of the road, some three-fourths of a mile from the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway.

Representatives of George Rubens, who purchased the property 45 years ago, said the city’s downzoning has effectively deprived him of any economic use, notwithstanding his payment of assessments for the construction of a county water pipeline during the 1960s and 1970s. At the time of the purchase, the county zoning would have allowed one house per acre. The city has given the land an RR-20 or Rural Residential designation of one dwelling per 20 acres.

Rubens, now 83, seeks an RR-5 or one dwelling unit per five acres. At Monday’s hearing, he sought a compromise that would allow 13 homes for the entire site. A spokesman said the changes in zoning over the years have effected a 98.6 percent reduction of his holdings and have deprived him of substantially all the benefits of his earlier payouts on the land.

The city hired Mason & Mason, a real estate appraisal firm, to evaluate the situation. In an August 1999 letter, the firm concluded even at $1.5 million per home, the development venture might not be possible. The cost of a road through the tract would be $1.6 million. It concluded that selling off four lots, rather than building homes, would be more marketable.

Arguing on behalf of Rubens, Donald W. Schmitz Jr. of The Land & Water Co., Agoura Hills, said the property includes flat mesas that would require little or no grading and would be ideal homesites. Citing 15 years of water assessments paid by the property owner, he said the issue is to provide fairness.

Ellison Folk, an attorney with the San Francisco firm of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, hired to advise the city of Malibu on the Rubens’ request, said the owner’s investment-backed expectations may have been unreasonable at the time of purchase because the land was extremely hilly and difficult to build. She submitted, nonetheless, that a sale of the land “as is” would produce a profit.

Councilman Harry Barovsky, alluding to investments in the stock market, described the 1954 purchase as highly speculative with no guarantee of a profit. He moved to reject the amendment. Councilman Walter Keller noted the owner had signed a petition to form the original water assessment district and that he had never filed a request to build on the property — under either the old zoning formula or the new.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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