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Council Struggles With Home-Building Ban : Development: A moratorium extension is approved, but weak criteria could allow single-family home projects to be exempted.

March 19, 1992|RON RUSSELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MALIBU — Malibu's leaders have extended a ban on new home construction but the law, approved Tuesday, could possibly open the way for many would-be builders to go ahead with their projects.

By a 5-0 vote, the City Council approved extending for another year a freeze on most single-family home construction that expires March 25. But because they could not agree on the criteria for making exemptions, they passed a law that isn't as stringent as many of the council members would have liked.

The ordinance approved Tuesday keeps the moratorium in place, but weakens the criteria that determine whether a specific single-family home can be exempted. Unless the ordinance is strengthened within the next few days, the measure would open the door for an undetermined number of builders whose projects were not exempted earlier to reapply.

The City Council, meanwhile, left intact for another year an outright ban on the construction of commercial properties, multifamily dwellings and new subdivisions.

But, as in the past, it was the single-family home issue that generated heated debate before a standing-room-only crowd of more than 200 who crammed into an auditorium at the Hughes Aircraft Co., where the council holds its meetings.

By law, the council will be unable to take steps to toughen the measure once the existing moratorium expires, meaning that it will be stuck with the measure as approved unless a compromise is reached before next Wednesday.

Council members Walt Keller and Mike Caggiano, who on Tuesday offered competing provisions for setting new exemption guidelines, expressed a desire to get together and hammer out a compromise. However, it remained unclear Wednesday whether the two council members would actually meet.

Assuming that the two men reach an accommodation, the full council would have to take action in a special meeting before next Wednesday. All meetings require 72 hours advance notice.

Tuesday's four-hour hearing on the matter left council members expressing disappointment that no agreement on the thorny exemption issue could be worked out.

Keller and Caggiano, as well as the other council members, have expressed support for tougher requirements than those in the prevailing measure in a number of areas, including height limits, grading, setbacks and view protection.

Caggiano pitched his provisions as a compromise to the somewhat tougher standards favored by Keller, insisting that it had borrowed much of the language from plans Keller and his other City Council ally, Councilwoman Carolyn Van Horn, have favored. Caggiano, Van Horn and Councilwoman Missy Zeitsoff face reelection next month.

"I'm very disappointed that my tougher restrictions were not approved," Caggiano said. "I think they are needed."

However, Van Horn questioned the sincerity of Caggiano's gesture, adding, "I think what happened here (Tuesday night) was a well-orchestrated effort by the (council) majority to lighten up on the moratorium for single-family homes."

She said that she had little choice but to vote for the measure, in hopes of getting a last-minute compromise on the exemption criteria.

"But quite frankly, I'm not hopeful of that," she said.

More than four dozen people testified during the four-hour hearing on the matter, many of them building tradesmen who insist that the moratorium has lasted far too long and that it had adversely affected their incomes.

Malibu's leaders imposed a development moratorium, clamping down on new home construction and banning commercial and multifamily development, on March 28, 1991, the day Malibu became a city.

By law, Malibu may restrict new construction for up to 2 1/2 years while it develops a General Plan to serve as a blueprint for the community. A task force, appointed by the City Council, has been laboring for nearly a year on the General Plan. City officials have said it may be at least another year before the plan is completed.

The council has previously allowed several exemptions to the ban on single-family home construction.

Last May, it ruled that work could proceed on homes whose builders had obtained California Coastal Commission permits and building permits from Los Angeles County before cityhood. It later exempted another group of projects that received Coastal Commission permits after cityhood.

Even as the council moved to continue the ban on new subdivisions, the owner of a beachfront duplex filed a $10-million lawsuit against the city on Tuesday, contending the moratorium had violated his property rights.

The lawsuit by Roy Harrow stems from the city's denial of his request to subdivide a beachfront duplex that he owns in eastern Malibu. Harrow wants to sell one unit and live in the other.

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