Latigo property owners withdraw application

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The lawyer says his clients are tired of waiting.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

Saying the process was taking too long and the effort was no longer worth it, the attorney for four property owners seeking a lot-line adjustment in Latigo Canyon announced at Monday’s City Council meeting his clients would withdraw the application.

City staff had recommended an environmental impact review for the proposal. Electronic state records dating back to 1986 show no EIR has ever been required in California for a lot-line adjustment.

Attorney Stanley Lamport said after the meeting his clients would still build on the site eventually.

“Our clients will sit down and decide what they want to do with the properties,” Lamport said. “We’re just not processing a lot-line adjustment, and we’ll work with whatever [land] configuration we have.”

Don Schmitz, a private planning consultant hired by the property owners, was standing next to Lamport and added, “What they’re not going to do is walk away from the property.”

The now defunct proposal called 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. An application was submitted to the city three years ago, and it received Planning Commission approval in 2006. That decision was appealed by 10 parties, including the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, over environmental concerns and that the property owner (at the time one company owned the four parcels, each parcel now has a separate owner) was not being required to donate land to the state for a trail.

The appeal hearing has been delayed several times. Lamport said on Monday, with city staff’s recommendation for an EIR (a recent development), his clients were fed up.

“At some point you have to ask yourself, does the end justify this effort?” Lamport said during the council meeting. “And our clients came to the conclusion … that it does not.”

Shortly before Lamport announced his client’s intention to withdraw the application, the appeal hearing that was supposed to take place at Monday’s meeting was cancelled. City Councilmember Sharon Barovsky requested a continuance so city staff could gather further environmental information, although she did not specify if she supported a full EIR process.

“My personal feeling about the project was when city staff tells me that they need more information that involves the environment … and I read this thing [a staff report that has exceeded 2,000 pages] that is so thick … I have to assume that they’re telling me they really need more study,” Barovsky said.

Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich and Mayor Pro Tem Andy Stern agreed with Barovsky. Councilmember Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner recused himself from the decision because he has previously made public comments against the project. Councilmember John Sibert did not attend the meeting, but he would not have been able to vote anyway because he was on the Planning Commission when it heard about the project.

Lamport said that after the meeting, his clients would have withdrawn their application regardless, but the council’s vote for a continuance “galvanized what we were going to do.”

“We expected to go up there and address the concerns [of the appeal],” Lamport said. “And we were denied the opportunity.”

City staff had recommended the unprecedented EIR because large homes could eventually be proposed for the area, although no applications for homes have been submitted to the city. Schmitz has said his clients want to build homes as large as 15,000 square feet. The city’s Local Coastal Program says a house can be no larger than 11,172 square feet, so the property owners would have needed a variance from the city.

Another major issue involving the project was a request by the SMMC and others for a dedication of land to accommodate 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. The property owners have been unwilling to dedicate the land for a trail unless they received the right to build homes that are larger than the 11,172 square feet. But opponents have requested the trail dedication regardless, since they have no control over whether the City Council approves a variance to build the large homes.

Lamport said after the meeting the issue of the trail is dead and has been for a long time because those requesting it have been unreasonable. He said the SMMC and others requesting the trail dedication refused to agree to back out of challenging the project, even if the trail were offered.

“What sane person would donate a trail in that scenario?” Lamport asked rhetorically. “The answer is we’re not going to do that [dedicate a trail], it’s crazy.”