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Commentary: Public meetings needed for 'granny flats'

September 05, 2013|By Gene Felder

The Design Review Board is being undermined.

I have always said the toughest job in Laguna Beach was serving on the Design Review Board. Passions often get high and the decisions are often very difficult. However, I always thought it was an important job and that its work and effort made a difference.

I was shocked to learn that, after the Design Review Board gave approval for a new home on Alta Laguna Boulevard, an addition could be made without a public hearing and signed off on by city staff. After many meetings regarding the sensitivity of the environment and the importance of preserving public views, state law regarding second unit residences requires only ministerial review. Unbelievable.

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There are many state and city laws that need to be considered. But we are told that this state law regarding "granny flats" (second residential units) trumps all. Of course, we are concerned about low-cost housing, but no one in his or her right mind thinks that the house on Alta Laguna Boulevard is addressing low-cost housing.

The appeal does not question adding the addition but that it needs to be consistent with the design approved by the Design Review Board. This second unit residence should be lower and positioned so as to preserve public views and the dedicated hard work of the Design Review Board.

After years of many Design Review Board and other city public meetings focused on preserving public views, the applicant purchased the lot on Alta Laguna Boulevard with approved plans. The applicant knew or should have known of the concern for public views and the environmental sensitivity of the lot.

The Design Review Board approved a plan protecting public views and the adjacent public park. Changes — approved by the city without public input — now adversely affect views and the park.

"[T]o not require a public hearing in the consideration of second-unit applications" does not mean that the city is prohibited from holding a public hearing.

"Granny flat" design changes should be sent to the Design Review Board to ascertain if the project changes are consistent with its approval.

GENE FELDER is a member of the historical society board and a Laguna Beach resident.

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