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'Urgency' Rule Affects Building on Hillsides : Development: Council votes to consider basement size in approval process. Members deny charge that temporary law is aimed at Tower Road property.


BEVERLY HILLS — Claiming the public's health, safety and welfare were at stake, the Beverly Hills City Council approved an urgency ordinance just minutes before midnight Tuesday that amends city requirements for new homes being built in the hillsides.

An attorney for Robert Manoukian, who lost his bid Aug. 3 to win city approval to build a 46,000-square-foot estate on his Tower Road property, blasted the council's action, charging that the ordinance was specifically directed at his client's property.

The ordinance, which became effective immediately, requires basements to be included in calculating floor space for the next 45 days while the council rethinks the hillside building regulations it approved in September.

One of Manoukian's attorneys, Terrence Everett, charged that the ordinance was an attempt to place new limits on any project proposed for the Tower Road property. Manoukian's rejected plans called for a 10,718-square-foot basement.

The interim ordinance was hastily drafted by City Attorney Greg Stepanicich following the council's afternoon study session. At the council's evening session, Stepanicich read the urgency ordinance to the council from handwritten notes.

The city's hillside ordinance was considered an improvement over the previous law because it used formulas to more clearly spell out for developers how large a house they could build on a particular property. However, the ordinance continued the city's practice of excluding basements from the calculation of floor area. Under the urgency legislation, basements, except those used for garage space or for mechanical equipment, are included in calculations.

The temporary ordinance "lowers the threshold where discretionary review comes in," Stepanicich said, because basements will be added into the square footage.

Under the hillside ordinance, homes larger than 25,000 square feet must be reviewed and approved by the city Planning Commission, and projects smaller than 25,000 square feet may be approved by city staff.

Although Manoukian's attorney did not reveal what plans his client may have for reapplying for city approval, the interim measure appears to significantly impact his prospects.

According to city staff, without the urgency ordinance in effect, Manoukian could build three separate houses for a total of 32,000 square feet plus basement on his three lots or he could build an estate of 34,000 square feet plus basement if the lots were legally tied.

By including the basement in floor-area calculations, the urgency ordinance would severely limit the size of the estate Manoukian could apply for.

Terrence Everett, one of Manoukian's attorneys, said, "I am fairly concerned about what's happening here. Some people are trying to railroad an urgency ordinance through the City Council to affect one property."

Councilman Robert K. Tanenbaum defended the urgency ordinance, saying a 25,000-square-foot project with a 10,000-square-foot basement should be evaluated as a 35,000-square-foot project because of the hazardous effect it could have on the narrow, winding country roads in the hillside.

Tanenbaum also took Everett to task over his claim that the ordinance was aimed at the Tower Road property.

"Don't think for one minute that everything revolves around you and your client," Tanenbaum said. "There's a big city out there."

But Everett condemned the council's action, saying, "No one in the community knows what's happening."

The issue is clearly not something that requires urgency action, Everett said, but should be opened up to the community for input.

Everett noted that the city's hillside ordinance had been nearly five years in the making and was designed to give developers a sense of certainty about what they could build.

Everett said a decision that affects the entire community should not be dictated by "just a few who have a beef on Tower Road."

"I don't see the community here," Everett said, noting that the few people remaining in the audience close to midnight were Stuart and Carrie Ketchum and Felicia Lemmon, who had fought bitterly against the Tower Road project.

Several council members acknowledged that the urgency ordinance appeared to target the Tower Road project, but said the measure had been a long time coming.

"I can understand why you come to this conclusion," said Vice Mayor Vicki Reynolds. But the issue of whether basements should be counted has been a longstanding one in Trousdale and other hillside areas, she said.

"This is not something that has been written out of one project. We find we have not really articulated our intent" in the ordinance, she said.

Mayor Maxwell Salter, who cast the sole vote against the urgency ordinance, said he had no doubt that the council would eventually change the basement requirement.

But, he said, "there's no urgency here. We can take our time and do this properly."

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