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Landowners Sue Over Interim Zoning Law : Land use: The city says the restrictions are temporary. Some residents argue that they are unfair and could become permanent.


MALIBU — A new city law has some Malibu residents worried that they won't be able to have room for more children and that they will have to tear down their houses in 20 years.

But city officials say that the ordinance they find so frightening applies to commercial, not residential, properties.

A group of commercial landowners is also upset over the 2-week-old law, but for other reasons. The Malibu Village Civic Assn., which represents the largest landholders in the Civic Center area, filed a suit in Los Angeles Superior Court late last month, asking the court to void the city ordinance.

City officials say the ordinance is supposed to be a conservative, stopgap measure that keeps land-use options open until a General Plan for the city can be finished. The General Plan, being prepared by a citizens task force, is expected to go the City Council around the end of the year.

Attorneys for the civic association, the Malibu Bay Co. and other plaintiffs contend that the temporary ordinance may in fact be the law for a year or longer and that it has far-reaching effects on affordable housing and other development in the city. Therefore, civic association spokesman Larry J. Kosmont says, an environmental review should have been conducted before the law was passed.

The 400 residents--who have joined a group called the Federation of United Property Owners of Malibu, or FED-UP for short--have other reasons for challenging the ordinance.

For many people, a home is the major financial asset, said Vicki Weston, president of the federation. When residents voted for cityhood and gave the council a slow-growth mandate, she said, they had no idea that the result would be this ordinance.

On surveys and at community workshops, residents said they did not want too much commercial development, they wanted to protect the ridgelines and they did not want big, ugly condominium complexes, Weston said. The City Council, however, has interpreted those general goals and drawn up an ordinance that strictly limits homes to one story without a special permit and regulates the size of custom homes, she said.

"People didn't elect them to do this," Weston said. The ordinance has "gone far beyond the intent of residents."

Some residents have also expressed concerns about sections of the law that appear to restrict additions and any "increase in occupant load" in buildings that do not conform to the new code. Another clause seems to require that nonconforming buildings be torn down 20 years from the date the ordinance is approved.

Mayor Walt Keller said last week, however, that the occupant load and termination conditions apply to commercial properties under certain conditions.

Keller acknowledged that the chapter on "nonconforming buildings and uses is the subject of a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding in the community."

He said he will introduce a resolution at Monday's council meeting to establish guidelines for city staff to follow in applying the provisions until the chapter can actually be clarified and rewritten.

Weston said there is no doubt about the meaning of other provisions, such as those limiting the height and size of homes.

In some way or another, the new zoning code makes 80% of the homes in Malibu nonconforming, Weston said. "The council has done an irresponsible thing by not considering what is already here," she added.

Last month, Weston's group sent out a survey to about 5,800 residents, mostly owners of single-family homes, to gauge sentiment about the ordinance, she said. About 1,200 responses have come back, and they overwhelmingly oppose regulating the height and size of custom homes and other restrictions. Weston said she planned to present the results of the survey to the council Monday.

Keller said in a prepared statement that the federation's mail survey contained "flagrant misinformation." Contrary to the survey, he said, existing homes can be remodeled or enlarged, "as long as the new portion meets these (development) standards."

The law limits the size of a home, based on lot size, to prevent speculative overbuilding and mansionization, Keller said, "but I think it's pretty generous."

"Let me know if you have any problem with these limits," Keller added, and then described them: On a half-acre lot, a house can be no larger than 5,000 square feet; for a one-acre lot, the limit is 7,000 square feet; for a two-acre lot, it is 8,600 square feet, and for a five-acre lot, the limit is 11,172 square feet.

Weston said cities often regulate custom homes by requiring property-line setbacks, but Malibu should not be in the business of setting such specific, square-footage limits on custom-house lots.

Weston said the only reason residents have not mounted more opposition to the ordinance is because city officials are calling it an interim zoning ordinance.

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