Council orders cover-up of Mar Vista project

November 18, 2005|By By Barbara Diamond

City orders grading, landscaping changes at 17,000-squarefoot hillside home; effort to revoke permits underway.For the second time this month, the City Council took issue with a 17,000-square-foot home under construction on Mar Vista Avenue in South Laguna.

On Tuesday, the council ordered changes to grading and landscaping plans that exposed more of the project than had been approved. On Nov. 1, the council issued a stop-work order for the project, which has been a lightning rod for criticism by neighbors and community members because of its size.

Property owner and developer Gerald Messineo was instructed Tuesday to make the exposed retaining wall consistent with an October 2004 council-approved proposal and to come up with a landscaping plan that screens the project from public view, with no fewer than 40 trees.


"DRB [design review board] approved exposed walls of 14 to 15 feet high, but now we have exposed walls of 20 to 21 feet," said Councilwoman Jane Egly, who also proposed changes in the landscaping plan.

The council's decision overturned an administrative decision by John Montgomery, director of the Community Development Department, to issue a building permit for the project.

Tuesday's hearing took more than three hours and included two closed sessions, at which apparently no action was taken. The law requires actions to be announced.

The stop-work order for the project will not be lifted until the council has an opportunity to hold a hearing to determine if there is probable cause for revocation of the building permit.

South Laguna resident Elizabeth Phillips had appealed Montgomery's decision, claiming the plans he approved did not conform to the design review board approval and the subsequent City Council's directive for the project and that Montgomery erred in issuing a building permit.

The hearing was a continuation of the item from the Nov. 1 council meeting.

Messineo spokesman Allen Haynie said at both hearings that the changes were made due to conditions imposed on the project by the council and consultation with the Fire Department and were not out of conformance with the intent of the council or the board.

Montgomery said he concurred.

On Tuesday, Haynie said that native habitat, which didn't have to be removed after the grading changes, covers more of the walls than the dirt would have.

"But it's not permanent," Egly said. "Dirt is."

The actual wall height didn't change, but the altered grading exposed much more of the vertical surface.

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