Development Challenges New View Rules

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Now that the dust has settled, is there a take away from Toni’s, Rob’s and Kelly’s election? Certainly voters who resonated to the “Don’t Pave Paradise” theme gravitated toward Toni and Rob, who have steadfastly opposed overreach by developers. Kelly’s re-election can be traced in large part to his championing the view equity ordinance.

The view equity ordinance firmly establishes homeowner view rights, not just for “existing” views but a right to “restore” views. It provides objective measures to enforce view rights when it comes to vegetation obstruction. Yet even with view rights on the books, developers still push the limits. The Design Review Board is tasked to sort this out and provide balance to developers and view equity rights of neighbors. But the challenge for DRB is that when it comes to house development, much of the code calls for subjective interpretation. For instance, what does “view equity,” “neighborhood compatibility,” “respect neighborhood character,” and “appropriate height” mean?

In Top of the World, developers across from Alta Laguna Park were required to go below street level in order to protect neighborhood character and view equities. Similarly, in Arch Beach Heights new construction was proposed on vacant land that faced fierce neighborhood opposition, but now calls for an Alta Laguna Park-below street approach.  Yet just around the corner, story poles are up that calls for demolishing an existing structure and replacing it with a view-blocking house above street level.

It seems the developer wants to make the case that a new house is entitled “remodel” status for something that will no longer exist. Yet, doesn’t resulting vacant land have the same net effect on neighbors as if there were never a house on the land to begin with? Why should there be a different standard for homeowners under the view equity ordinance of a “right” to view restoration when it comes to trees, yet are not entitled to that same right when it comes to a developer who voluntarily demolishes a house to its studs and foundation in order to build another house?  Should a remodel based on a demolished structure be afforded special exemption from new-home requirements, including geologic survey in an area, which has seen some of the worst slides in Laguna history? It simply doesn’t pass the smell test.

These are questions that the DRB will have to settle. The hearing is set for July 9.

Alan Boinus, Laguna Beach


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