ROLLING HILLS ESTATES — Residents along rustic Buckskin Lane live amicably with barns, horses, peafowl, chickens and even a milk cow or two.
But when some of them saw the framework of two large metal storage structures going up on the other side of their canyon a couple of weeks ago, they balked.
"They're too monstrous," said Jack Shnable, who has lived on Buckskin for 28 years and has a clear view of the buildings. "They destroy our pastoral view, which we paid extra money for."
According to officials, the two structures--which total 3,500 square feet and are 15 and 18 feet in height--were approved by the city nearly a year ago after plans were submitted by Tom and Linda Jacobson, who are erecting the buildings on a slope behind their home at 33 Dapplegray Lane. Building and grading permits subsequently were issued by Los Angeles County, which handles city building projects.
City Planning Director Stephen A. Emslie said that while he felt the buildings were "inappropriate" for the property--"they're larger than the house," he said--they met all requirements of the building code and were approved.
"We could not have rejected them based on their size," he said. "The city was compelled to allow them."
Said Shnable: "Somebody goofed at City Hall."
In the wake of a neighborhood outcry against the buildings, the City Council agrees and it is scrambling to find a way out of a dilemma: what to do about the legally approved buildings, about 60% completed, that council members do not want built.
"The buildings are inappropriate and I'm surprised that they are allowed under our ordinances," said Councilwoman Nell Mirels.
Councilman Jerome Belsky said the council "should have been made aware" of the project when it was going through plan check. But he would not speculate whether the council could have stopped it, given the fact that the code does not limit the number or bulk of accessory buildings as long as no more than 30% of a lot area is covered by structures. With more than an acre of land, the Jacobsons are well within those limits. The code also does not govern building materials, in this instance metal, which the critics on Buckskin say they find abhorrent.
Some officials have termed the Jacobson case a dramatic example of flaws in a residential building code that has seen few changes since the city was incorporated nearly 30 years ago.
Ironically, the Planning Commission has been holding public hearings for several months and is putting together new regulations that Emslie said would decrease the limit for overall building heights and give the staff authority to review building materials and colors to determine if buildings are compatible with neighborhoods.
City Atty. Richard Terzian said the Jacobsons themselves may have given the city a way out of the present crisis by misrepresenting the intended use of the buildings and whether they received required plan approval from the Dapplegray Homeowners Assn., which administers deed restrictions in the neighborhood. The City Council has directed staff to look into the matter.
"This thing has gotten out of hand," said Linda Jacobson, who referred a reporter to her attorney, Gary Ritchie. Ritchie declined comment. The Jacobsons already have voluntarily to halted construction for 30 days.
Officials said that while the Jacobsons said the buildings will be used to refurbish and store antique cars they collect as a hobby, they also may be planning to use them to condition drag racing cars. In an agreement with the city, the Jacobsons stipulated that the buildings would be solely for their own use and noise levels would not exceed legal limits.
"When you have a facility this large, it's awfully easy for a hobby to drift over to being more than that, a business or something in between," said Terzian. "Maybe he stores cars for friends, or works on cars for friends, and maybe they give him some money for it."
Emslie said the Jacobsons told the city that the project was "OK" with the Dapplegray association. However, Richard Luke, association president, said "nothing was ever submitted by the Jacobsons" and the association had no knowledge of the buildings before the controversy erupted. Luke said that under deed restrictions, the association must approve plans for all new structures on Dapplegray property.
Emslie also said that based on reports from neighbors, the Jacobsons may have removed earth from the property in violation of the grading permit, which stipulates that soil be relocated elsewhere on the land.
After a closed-door meeting last week, the council directed the staff to determine if the Jacobsons are in "full compliance" with their permits and if the structures violate a view protection ordinance intended to prevent "needless destruction" of views and "minimize the appearance of visually intrusive structures."
Mayor Peter Weber said he wants to find a compromise solution to the problem "so no one winds up in court." The council has called for a meeting between the city, the Jacobsons and the Dapplegray association.
Emslie said the city has needed a tighter building code for at least two years, largely because of view obstruction controversies that have been sparked by large additions to homes. He said rising real estate values have prompted people to enlarge their homes, or tear them down altogether and replace them with bigger buildings.
The Planning Commission will wind up hearings next month on code revisions and send proposed changes to the council, and Emslie said the Jacobson case should "accelerate the process."