Two things happened in the course of this 4 hour marathon. The owner and potential purchaser of a property located at 723 Camillo, an empty lot desperately looking for a house, were told that they would need to come back with a better plan if they were going to get the Planning Commission's approval. And the Canyon Zone Advisory Committee had their plans for preserving the unique character of that particular area of our community signed off on and sent to the City Council where its final fate is to be decided. Despite opposition from the usual colorful cast of characters.
Now if that is all you needed to know, then there you are. The whole story. But during this meeting a couple of fairly amusing things occurred and I thought I should share them with you.
First up was the 723 Camillo matter. The owner of that property, the owner's representatives, the folks considering buying that property, and their representatives (including the hoped for home's solicitous designer), were all there to plead their case to the commissioners. But apparently the problem is an extremely sensitive one. In Sierra Madre there are no easy properties left to build on. And most everything flat and rectangular already has a house on it, which leaves only those lots out on the wild mountain frontier available. And the sylvan locale on this night's docket is just about as wild as it gets.
This property is in a part our world covered by the Hillside Management Zone, or HMZ. The idea behind this is to only allow development that properly fits within existing landforms. Something put into place by the previous City Council in order to prevent things such as the building of a knock off Taj Mahal on top of a mountain, which would then dominate the city's topography like a toothache. The HMZ was also designed to ensure that any new homes would be constructed in such a way that we'd avoid the kind of McMansionization we have seen in places like Arcadia. They would need to be in character with existing housing. Yet another way that Sierra Madre has preserved its unique character in a part of the world where few towns seem to care about anything but easy money.
The property in question is located within the orbit of a prominent ridgeline. And you can't build on those things because of our "big house on the hill" aversion. As a matter of fact, you can't even build a house more than 50% of the height of a ridgeline, and then only when you're 100 or so feet away. Which for this particular property means the owners would be forced to build their house in a small corner, with the rest of the lot left entirely vacant.
And since the planned for home under discussion was a bit too large given these conditions, the project looked doomed. So it was then that a representative of that property's owner, someone obviously eager to unload what has basically been a financial white elephant I'm sure, stepped up with a bold gambit. He had decided that the best way to save his client's bacon was to declare that the ridgeline didn't exist. And that what all the members of the Planning Commission had seen with their own eyes wasn't actually there. It was a daunting task.
Steve Austin, the daring gentleman in question, stepped up to the podium and attempted to make his case. The folks at his company had checked all their maps, and they couldn't find it. The map didn't exist. Which in his mind also meant the ridgeline didn't exist. He also later said that this ridgeline, which didn't exist on any maps he had, and therefore must not exist, was located further to the west. A contradiction in many people's minds.
The Planning Commissioners replied that the map was included in the Environmental Impact Report, and was both EIR approved and included in the paperwork they were all holding. And this map clearly showed what Mr. Austin said did not exist.
Mr. Austin then wisely modified his claims a bit. There is something there he admitted, but it wasn't a ridgeline. Rather it is a high slope with a flat top.
The Planning Commissioners then asked that if Mr. Austin was certain the ridgeline that everyone else can see as plain as the noses on their faces isn't actually there, why doesn't he hire a surveyor and prove it doesn't exist?
Mr. Austin dodged that one. Racking up further expenses for his client wasn't what he was being paid to do that evening. He then attempted one more risky ploy.
"The map you have now is just something arbitrarily adopted by some group of people," ventured Mr. Austin.
To which one member of the Planning Commission tartly replied, "Oh, then you must mean us, the Planning Commission people. Because it was us."
It was soon decided that all the concerned parties would go back to the drawing board to modify their plans per Planning Commission recommendations, and then try again for approval at a later date. And it looks like, at least for now, that ridgeline has returned to the planet floor.
The Opposition To The Canyon Zone Advisory Committee Collapses Into A Wet Heap
There were only two final opportunities left to stop what the Red Herring Brigade fears the most. That being a neighborhood where local Bob the Builders can make some major dough dipping and flipping houses, but planning is controlled by the bothersome people who happen to live there. The problem being that those people, happy with their unique and attractive community as it is, really don't see the point in letting a bunch of gauche hammer jockeys wreck it just because they can't make a living doing anything else.
The Contra Canyonites who came to oppose the Canyon Zone Advisory Committee's Canyon Specific Ordinances had the following arguments to make:
1) People in the Canyon wouldn't have any place to park their Motor Homes and Recreational Vehicles. Thus endangering its reputation as "Upper Slab City."
2) The restrictions contained within the committee's recommendations are far too restrictive, and unenclosed open spaces such as gazebos wouldn't be counted as being part of your home's square footage. And if gazebos are endangered, where will Canyon dwellers go to spoon?
3) Everybody in the Canyon knows each others' names and they're pals, so you shouldn't have planning. It would rob the neighborhood of its neighborliness and that would rob people of their spirit. Great emotional misery would follow.
4) Under the CZAC's recommendations people would be able to count things such as their attics as part of their overall square footage. Which could then be used as habitable space. This diminishes the need for additional buildable space in the Canyon, thereby depriving Bob the Builder of money making opportunities.
5) Angle/Plane height restrictions would prevent the construction of anything but saltboxes and airplane houses.
6) Mighty fine houses that were built in years past would never be able to be built now. Which I guess means people would lose the freedom to spontaneously tear down their existing homes when in a bad mood.
7) CEQA reviews and CUPs would be required of those who don't want them.
After Public Comment was over, the Planning Commission briefly discussed the above objections. The CEQA issue was deemed to have some validity, and a tweak was administered to the paperwork that took care of the problem. The rest of these arguments were easily debunked, subjected to dry planning humor, then permanently consigned to a round file.
Personally I found this display to be a bit of a disappointment. I'd heard that the Contra Canyonites were a tough and well-versed band of ruffians with some serious arguments to make against the approval of the Canyon Zone Advisory Committee's recommendations. But in the end their overall effect at this meeting was not much more than a comedic interlude.
Of course, the Contra Canyonites do get one last opportunity to save the day. And that would be to stand before the City Council in a couple weeks and once again review such carefully reasoned arguments as how planning harshes people's mellows and jams their heads.
We have much to look forward to.
Bonus Coverage: Sierra Madre Fees Run Amuck
Another excellent report from "jo-el" has been posted. This time on the upcoming Sierra Madre Fee Hikes. The public hearing on the matter takes place during tomorow night's City Council meeting. You can (and should) link to it here. Post includes a link to the NBS Study on the matter. More on this tomorrow.