Council denies two costal development permits

Rendering of the proposed residence on the Malibu Bluffs. The design was submitted last October 9 at the City Council meeting. The Permit was denied. Contributed photo.

During the Malibu City Council in-person meeting on Monday, May 9, two coastal development permits were denied due to their extensive variances.

The proposed project, which has been in development for nearly six years, and on the Planning Commission’s radar since 2018, involves the construction of a new single-family residence and various exterior improvements. Based on the evidence, the proposed project is not consistent with the Malibu Municipal Code and Local Coastal Program.

The project descriptions include a new 2,825-square-foot, two-story, single-family residence, including a 483-square-foot attached two-car garage, rooftop deck, swimming pool, spa and associated equipment, barbeque, outdoor fireplace, retaining walls, hardscaping, grading, and installation of a new alternative onsite wastewater treatment system. 

The Planning Commission denied the proposed project on Oct. 4, 2021 and adopted Planning Commission Resolution No. 21-06.

The applicant presented redesigned options that included the potential use of parking lifts but was denied by the fire department, being told that the access is too steep. 

During that October meeting, 14 residents spoke in opposition to the development. The objecting residents described the project as unfettered, unprecedented, invasive, and irresponsible. Residents and their attorneys expressed their concerns on the location and its variances.

“What they’re proposing is way too large for this space,” Attorney David Rosen said. “Try making stuff smaller. What they’re trying to do is push the limits as far as they possibly can and they’re pushing it well beyond what are acceptable limits.”

Rosen addressed the steep and unstable road and said the developers should create something residents can support.

“If the developers stop shooting for the moon and try to be reasonable and come up with something that works, there’s use for the property,” Rosen said. “If there’s something reasonable, the community might get behind it.”

Rosen spoke again at the in-person City Council meeting opposing the project. 

“Ultimately it’s not about the neighbors, it’s about the community, it’s about the environment, it’s about the coastal commission, it’s about the laws that exist that protect these things,” Rosen said. “It’s not about money for developers and I urge you to affirm the decision of the Planning Commission.”

The Planning Commission denied the project due to its nine variances. The appellant, 180 PCH, LLC, filed an appeal of the Planning Commission’s denial of the project on grounds that the findings for the project can be made.

Don Schmitz, a consultant with Smart Coast California and a land-use consultant specializing in land development in Malibu, attended the in-person meeting on May 9 and presented the development to City Council.

Schmitz presented the five variances and the first was for construction on a coastal bluff. Schmitz argued that since the entire property consists of a coastal slope, the site does not offer any alternative locations for development where construction on the coastal bluff can be avoided. 

The second variance was for construction on slopes. Schmitz said the project site does not offer any alternative locations for development where steep slopes can be avoided. The third variance is to allow a reduced side yard setback to meet the fire department access standards for the fire department turnaround and the pedestrian access. 

The fourth variance is for construction in excess of 24 feet. The fifth variance is to allow a second floor in excess of two-thirds of the first floor, Schmitz added that because it’s an inland development standard, they have to have a concrete slab and caissons for the fire department. 

Schmitz provided examples of current homes that are 71 feet wide and meet the code of being 24 feet tall.

“Those are the numbers that we are being obliged to utilize on the application,” Schmitz said. “These homes are built directly right above the beach, they have similar elevations and similar proximity as what is being proposed by the applicant.”

The projects are considered coastal bluffs areas and residents argue that developments that impact coastal areas will be a concern due to climate change and coastal erosion. 

Resident Paula Yankopoulos opposed the development, saying it’s “unsuitable and will cause irrevocable damage to the environment.” 

“The owner is clearly exploiting the loophole that allows a house to be built on a legal lot regardless of the lot size or whether it will have a damaging effect on the environment or immediate neighborhood,” Yankopoulos said. “The two houses being proposed will spread wall to wall across the three lots and totally obliterate a fragile natural bluff area.”

Councilmember Mikke Pierson said with all his years on the Planning Commission and City Council he has not seen anything like this.

“The way I look at this is it comes down to the code and property rights,” Pierson said. “For me, the staff recommendation of denial means a lot; you don’t see that often, so when it comes to us looking at the law, it means a lot to me, it’s pretty rare. I have a decent idea of what the applicants have been through trying to come up with a project that makes sense.”

Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Silverstein voted against the proposal and said he does not believe the developers proved their case to support their application.

“This is why we have the problems we have in Malibu, because people keep proposing preposterous projects and the planning department has to bend over backwards to try to find a way to approve them and occasionally they say no — this ones too preposterous,” Silverstein said.

Silverstein said the proposed development resolutions are too moderate and favorable to the project and recommends the developers redesign the project.

“They should propose something that they believe is reasonable and within the law and we’ll see what the Planning Department and Planning Commission says about it,” Silverstein said. “And if someone doesn’t like what the Planning Commission says, it’ll come back to the City Council again at some point in time.”

Residents asked the council to support the recommendations of the Planning Commission, protect the impacted residents, enforce the codes and protect the environment from the development, to which all members of the council voted to deny the coastal development.