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Malibu Plan to Curb Building Sparks Debate : Development: Opponents say the measure would be too restrictive. Supporters say the community needs a pause to consider its future.


A proposed law that would temporarily ban commercial and multifamily residential development and severely restrict new home construction in Malibu has sparked heated opposition from a coalition of homeowners, builders and real estate brokers.

At a hearing Tuesday attended by about 200 people--with another 100 unable to get inside the meeting hall because of fire regulations--opponents warned that the law would wreak financial havoc on home builders and others. Supporters insisted that the measure is needed to preserve Malibu's rural character.

The proposed law offers the most detailed glimpse yet of how Malibu's slow-growth-oriented leaders plan to deal with some of the explosive development issues that helped ignite last year's incorporation campaign.

A vote on the measure, which is subject to revision, will not take place until Malibu becomes a city March 28. The City Council-elect has scheduled another public hearing on the matter for March 3 before it attempts to hammer out a final version.

The five-member council-elect has said it wants to impose a development moratorium as an emergency measure among the first items of business once Malibu incorporates.

Although a proposal to temporarily ban commercial and condominium development had been widely expected, opponents of the draft law unveiled Tuesday expressed dismay that the council would consider a similar moratorium against the construction of single-family homes.

"I feel a little bit betrayed by this council as a result of this proposal," said Martha Zimmerman, who added that the measure would interfere with her family's plans to build a new home.

Others warned that a provision that would halt work on projects for which the foundation was not in place by March 28 would cause financial ruin to home builders caught by the moratorium.

"That section (of the law) is a total disaster," attorney Richard Scott said, adding that the law, as drafted, would invite "a mountain of litigation."

However, several of the more than two dozen speakers Tuesday voiced support for stringent growth restrictions.

"We need a moratorium to give us the chance to decide what the Malibu of the future is going to look like," homeowner Paul Russell said. "Anything else would just encourage loophole-shopping and the kind of business as usual that many of us voted against (when we approved cityhood)."

Others argued that a temporary construction halt is necessary if Malibu is to get a grip on the current surge of residential development in the community. Los Angeles County and California Coastal Commission records show a dramatic increase in new construction in Malibu during the last year as prospective builders anticipated tougher development standards once Malibu becomes a city.

"We're in a feeding frenzy (to develop) now," supporter LaVona Corzine said. "How long is it going to last?"

By law, the new City Council will have the authority to halt development for up to 2 1/2 years after Malibu becomes a city while developing a general plan to serve as a blueprint for future development.

Malibu's leaders have said they do not want to disrupt anyone's plans to build single-family houses, but have indicated that an interim halt may be unavoidable during the transition from using the county's planning guidelines to implementing Malibu's own.

The Malibu Board of Realtors has expressed opposition to any plan that would disrupt construction of single-family homes on existing legal lots.

Although the Malibu Chamber of Commerce has yet to take an official position on the matter, its president, Dr. Susan Reynolds, sounded a discordant note Tuesday. "We believe that a lengthy moratorium could be a serious problem," she said.

As proposed, the emergency measure would expire after 45 days but could be extended by the City Council.

The six-page document contains a wide range of exemptions for homes of up to 6,500 square feet requiring no more than 1,000 cubic yards of grading, and for additions that do not exceed 1,000 square feet.

But opponents contend that the proposal is fraught with inconsistencies. "If you take the bulk of the ordinance, you can hardly construct anything," architect Mike Barsocchini said.

Real estate developers, meanwhile, are upset that, by limiting an applicant to one building permit for a single-family structure, the measure would seriously impede the development of new subdivisions. "The way this is written, it makes it virtually impossible to develop your land," developer Peter Snyder said.

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