Loophole allowing ‘third stories’ could be closed

The Planning Commission redefines the term “basement” to prevent visual disturbances.

By Jonathan Friedman/Special to the Malibu Times

A loophole allowing people to essentially build a third story on their house could go away. At Monday’s Planning Commission meeting, it voted 4-0 to recommend a basement be included in the calculation of a home’s square footage. Also, it recommended the definition of a basement be changed.

With the current definition and rules for basements, homes can have one of its basement walls above ground. This, of course, can be seen and in a sense creates another floor to a home, allowing Malibu houses, in a way, to be built with a third floor, which is not allowed by the city code. Some city councilmembers had grown concerned that there were a growing number of permit applications to build these basements, and the council then recommended the city look into changing the rules to prevent what some considered to be a visual disturbance.

With the commission’s recommendation, basements would be defined as a structure that is built entirely below the first floor of the home. Also, basements greater than 1,000 feet in size would be counted toward the total square footage of the home. This is significant, since the size of Malibu structures are limited based on the ratio to the total amount of land that it occupies. According to the proposal, one square foot would be counted toward the square footage of a home for every two square feet the basement is more than 1,000. Also, basements would be limited to 12 feet in height.

Also at the meeting, Planning Manager Ed Knight said if the council were to choose to go ahead with Malibu Bay Company (MBC) Development Agreement Plan B, it would need to go before the commission for a review. This is due to a requirement in the city code that development agreements changed in the public hearing process must go back to the commission for a review. But it would not require another set of public hearings for the commission. If the council decides to keep with the current schedule, aiming for a November election on the agreement, that would mean the commission would have to review the new agreement in its next scheduled meeting on July 21 to keep pace with county election regulations

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The council was expected to direct staff at a Wednesday meeting that occurred after the Times went to press on whether it wanted to go ahead with the plan. The exact details of it are still being worked out between City Attorney Christi Hogin and MBC officials. In a late Tuesday interview, Hogin said something would be before the council at that meeting, but not necessarily the finalized deal.

At the beginning of Monday night’s meeting, the commission elected Robert Adler as its new chair. Roney was elected as vice-chair. Before officially stepping down from his post, outgoing Chair Richard Carrigan made a heartwarming speech, in which he had to hold back tears.

“A year ago I did not want to chair this committee,” he said. “I realized that we had enormously important projects in front of the commission. I didn’t want to spend the time. Now, a year later, I can say without reservation, chairing this committee was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.”

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

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