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Planner Wants Tighter Limits on Building Heights


THOUSAND OAKS — Saying too many developers are allowed to erect buildings that exceed the city's 35-foot height limit, a planning commissioner Monday called for a moratorium on all new projects until that loophole can be closed.

Planning Commissioner Michael Farris said Thousand Oaks needs to temporarily halt approval of new buildings to revisit and perhaps change its building height guidelines. Farris is one of two members of a planning commission subcommittee that he thinks should investigate the matter and make recommendations to the full commission.

The Planning Commission would then make recommendations to the City Council, which could accept or reject any changes to the city's law.

Councilwoman Linda Parks agreed that tightening of city codes is necessary.

"You have developers who will average in a 3-foot sidewall with a 60-foot wall to get to 35 feet," she said. "It's a concern I share too."

But at least one of Farris' four commission colleagues criticized the idea of a moratorium as too drastic and a knee-jerk reaction.

"As I drive up and down [Thousand Oaks] Boulevard, I don't see a runaway problem," said Dave Anderson, chairman of the commission.

Commissioner Thomas Glancy, who sits on the subcommittee with Farris, also said he thinks a moratorium is unnecessary.

Assistant City Atty. Nancy Kierstyn Schreiner said planning commissioners can't actually enact a moratorium. They can postpone decisions on individual projects on a case-by-case basis, but only the City Council can halt or change policy.

Farris called for a review of the current guidelines earlier this year after he wound up on the losing end of a vote that allowed the rehabilitation of an office park near Thousand Oaks and Westlake boulevards. The highest point of the development is to be 12 feet taller than the 35-foot zoning limit recommends.

"I'm concerned that a magic averaging calculation turns a 47-foot building into a 35-foot building," Farris said Monday. "It doesn't seem like it's common sense. It's a slippery slope at some point."

The office park's developer, Cal Johnston, said the higher roof was necessary to make the project economically feasible. The flexibility in the law also allowed his architects to design a more aesthetically pleasing building with varied roof lines.

"Moratoriums are cop-outs," Johnston said. "That's what they do in Washington when they want to kill an idea."

Johnston said revisiting the height policy also would discourage redevelopment along Thousand Oaks Boulevard, which has been a priority among city officials.

A moratorium could put on hold other proposals in coming months, including one that was scheduled to go before the commission Monday night. That project involves demolishing the old Home Depot building on Ventu Park Road and replacing it with a Design Expo Center, whose roof would reach 43 feet.

Under the averaging formula now accepted, the project would not need a waiver even though its highest point would exceed the limit by 8 feet. The building's heights range from 28 feet to 44 feet, says a planning commission staff report. When the different elements of the project are calculated under the formula used to establish average height, the development comes out at 29.25 feet overall--well below the 35-foot cap.

Another three commercial projects could go before the Planning Commission by the end of the year, said planning division manager John Prescott. He could not say how tall the highest proposed points were on any of those projects.

In this development-conscious city, where such terms as "open space" and "pristine ridgelines" are held by some residents as inalienable rights, officials imposed height restrictions to preserve Thousand Oaks' rural feel and sweeping views.

When corporate giant Amgen Inc. wanted to build higher than code allowed, it had to get its zoning changed. When the city's Civic Arts Plaza was being planned, zoning also needed to be amended. That's fair, Parks said.

But she takes issue with a policy that allows builders to bypass those processes. Planners couldn't say Monday how many projects include architectural elements that are taller than 35 feet.

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