Commission nears the end on design ordinance

After eight months of workshops with local architects and occasionally heated debate among themselves, the Planning Commission last week moved to the final stage of drafting an ordinance to regulate future housing design in the city.

The proposed regulations were originally intended only for new and remodeled hillside homes, but commissioners were unable to agree on how steep a slope to set as the threshold for regulation. Using existing zoning ordinances, Planning Director Craig Ewing brokered a compromise last month that added flat-lot properties to the regulation’s purview, while subjecting fewer hillside properties to the design requirements than some commissioners originally envisioned.

Currently, housing projects more than 18 feet tall or situated on a hillside slope greater than 33 percent must pass the Planning Department’s site plan review process. Under Ewing’s proposal, those same projects would also be subject to the new design regulations. Those guidelines generally require that the architecture and building materials of a proposed home blend into the natural landscape and not obstruct views of canyons and knolls.

The proposal provides an exception for homes that would not be visible from adjacent properties or roadways. Under the exception, what the commissioners like to call the “no-see-um” rule, hidden and isolated homes would not be subject to the design guidelines.

At last week’s meeting, architects accustomed to working in the city generally praised Ewing’s proposal, but they also urged the commission to revise some of the design guidelines before they are finalized and the City Council considers them for adoption.

“It’s a good solution, one that does not encourage political agendas,” said Michael Vignieri, a West Los Angeles architect who often works in Malibu.

But he took issue with some of the design guidelines, including one that requires roofs to be parallel with the hillside. Vignieri said because hillsides are rugged and not uniform, requiring roofs on hillside homes to slope in a general downward direction would have an unnatural effect.

“What you would really end up with is not something that blends into . . . the way nature works,” he said.

Ron Goldman, a locally based architect, said he disagreed with the requirement in the guidelines that aluminum and stainless steel building materials be avoided. He said he knows of homes in Marin County in Northern California that are made with aluminum siding that are regarded as beautiful and appropriate for a rural environment.

“I think any one of us would find it to be an absolute gem if it occurred down here in Malibu,” he said.

The commission will likely wrap up its work in a special meeting this week. Commission members are antsy to finish their proposal and hand it off to the City Council.

Vice Chair Andrew Stern even volunteered to hold a meeting on his wedding anniversary to finish the job. “I want to get this done,” he said. “It will never be perfect.”

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

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