City staff recommends environmental review for controversial project

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Malibu could enter uncharted territory on Monday if the City Council accepts the staff recommendation for an environmental impact report to be conducted for a proposed lot line adjustment in Latigo Canyon. The search engine on the Web site for the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, which dates back to 1986, has no record of a government requiring an EIR for a lot-line adjustment. City staff is recommending the review because large homes could eventually be proposed for the area.

The project calls for the division of a 121-acre property and three parcels ranging in size from 1.92 acres to 6.5 acres into four parcels ranging in size from 28.3 acres to 42.9 acres. This would allow for one large home on each parcel. No applications for the homes have been submitted to the city. However, planning consultant Don Schmitz has said his clients (each parcel is owned by a different company, although it is rumored that the companies are actually owned by members of a popular rock band) would like to build homes as large as 15,000 square feet.

“Pursuant to a recent e-mail to the applicant, applications [for the homes] could be anticipated in a few months,” wrote Senior Planner Stefanie Edmondson in the agenda staff report. “The development is reasonably foreseeable and specific development proposals must be reviewed concurrently in order to have an accurate assessment of the potential cumulative environmental impacts.”

Edmondson said this week she was unaware if an EIR has ever been required for a lot-line adjustment in Malibu or statewide. She said the recommendation was reviewed by the City Attorney’s Office. City Attorney Christi Hogin did not return calls this week for comment.

Schmitz declined to comment for this story, but he has said previously that an EIR is not needed.

The Planning Commission approved the proposal in September 2006. Nine nonprofit activist groups and an individual appealed the decision, and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy filed a separate one. The item has since been continued at several City Council meetings. The most recent took place in September when the National Park Service, which did not appeal the project but is against it, asked for a continuance because it could not send a representative to the meeting.

The appellants say they are concerned about the large homes’ possible impact on an environmentally sensitive habitat area, or ESHA, as well as the effect on the view from Solstice Canyon Park and nearby SMMC land.

There is also a request for the owners to dedicate a 3,000-foot trail through the area. The SMMC says this is vital to complete the construction of its planned Coastal Slope Trail, which would connect the east and west ends of Malibu. Schmitz has said his clients will not dedicate the land for a trail unless they get the right to build homes that are larger than the 11,172 square feet maximum allowed by the city’s Local Coastal Program. But the appellants want the trail dedication offered regardless, since they have no control over whether the City Council approves a variance to build the large homes. Schmitz told The Malibu Times in September that would be impossible because “they’re basically saying this trail linkage should be given for free.”

SMMC Executive Director Joe Edmiston said this week he believes the property owners are unwilling to give up the trail dedication because they are famous musicians.

“The issue of [the band] being free from trail hiking paparazzi is much less significant than the issue of being able to have a continuous Coastal Slope Trail,” Edmiston said

Edmiston said he congratulates city staff on recommending the EIR. He joked that Malibu officials will find his compliment unbelievable since he and the SMMC are usually at odds with the city.

Although no documented history of an EIR being required for a lot-line adjustment could be found, there have been several in the state for subdivision proposals. The appellants have referred to this project as a subdivision proposal since one of the parcels is significantly larger than the others.

Also on the agenda for Monday’s meeting are proposals to create an advisory committee on a citywide viewshed preservation ordinance and the potential municipal purchase of a 9.8-acre property on the north side of Pacific Coast Highway off Heathercliff Road.