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Planned house demolition upsets Malibu neighbors

A New Yorker's plan to demolish a Bart Prince-designed home and build a two-story California Mission-style residence has neighbors concerned over the potential loss of ocean views and what some decry as the waste of a perfectly good house.

January 29, 2012|By Martha Groves, Los Angeles Times
  • The couple who brought the one-acre Point Dume property at 28827 Grayfox St. told the city of Malibu that the existing 7,000-square-foot house  a series of diamond-shaped rooms that cascade down the slope  did not fit their needs or taste. They have proposed a nearly 6,900-square-foot compound with a two-story residence, detached garage, pool and cabana.
The couple who brought the one-acre Point Dume property at 28827 Grayfox… (Mike McNamara )

A New York hedge fund manager's plan to demolish an eye-catching steel-and-glass home in Malibu and build a two-story California Mission-style residence has neighbors in a lather over the potential loss of ocean views and what some decry as the waste of a perfectly good house.

Once described as among the most significant new structures in Malibu, the building slated for destruction was designed by architect Bart Prince and hugs the slope in a neighborhood of private tennis courts, swimming pools and lush lawns.

Among Point Dume residents who are urging preservation of the house — as well as million-dollar views — are Julia Roberts, Sean Penn, Don Rickles and Chad Smith, drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

"In my wildest dreams, I would never, ever have thought it would be possible for someone to build closer to our home … and also into the view of what you know is so precious to us and our family," said Smith, who lives next door and is leading the effort to stop the project. "It blows me away that this is possible."

To some, the controversy recalls other high-profile battles over coastal lands.

U2 guitarist the Edge, whose real name is David Evans, has for years encountered blowback from the California Coastal Commission and residents over plans to build five widely spaced mansions on a scenic ridge top. And in 2003, TV tycoon A. Jerrold Perenchio tussled with the coastal panel after environmental activists blew the whistle on his unpermitted pitch-and-putt golf course in the exclusive Malibu Colony.

But this preservation battle is unique in that the Prince-designed house was completed only in 2005. Although it was showcased by the late architectural photographer Julius Shulman in his book "Malibu: A Century of Living by the Sea," would-be preservationists are finding it tough to lay claim to historical significance.

The one-acre Point Dume property at 28827 Grayfox St. was bought in 2010 by the Sogel Family Trust for $6.2 million, down from the original listing price of $9.9 million, after 318 days on the market.

Behind the trust are Sean Fahey, a co-founder of Claren Road Asset Management, and his wife, Robin Luce. The couple, who have two young children, told the city that the existing 7,000-square-foot house — a series of diamond-shaped rooms that cascade down the slope — did not fit their needs or taste. They have proposed a nearly 6,900-square-foot compound with a two-story residence, detached garage, pool and cabana.

"My clients are excited to come out to Point Dume and be part of the community," said Fiona Hutton on behalf of the Sogel Family Trust. "It's a beautiful lot in a wonderful location."

Supporters of Smith and his wife, Nancy Mack — including Malibu-based bandmates Josh Klinghoffer, Anthony Kiedis and Michael Balzary, known as Flea — want the city to require further review under the California Environmental Quality Act. If the project is approved, they say they fear a "domino effect" of construction as area residents attempt to recapture blocked views.

Joining in the crusade is actress Kelly Lynch, who has spent $1 million restoring her John Lautner house in Los Feliz and described as "heartbreaking" and wasteful the prospect of seeing Prince's "masterpiece" dismantled.

"These faux Tuscan mansions that go up — they block the sky, block the sun, take up the entire site, impinge on the neighbors' home values, beauty, sightlines," Lynch said. "It's an old story."

Malibu does not have a historic preservation ordinance. Even if one existed, it almost certainly would not apply to a house so new as the one designed by Prince. Typically, properties must be at least 50 years old to be considered for landmark designation. For that reason, the Los Angeles Conservancy has chosen not to weigh in.

The city's planning staff has recommended that the Planning Commission approve the project, saying it conforms to municipal and local coastal program codes. Earlier this month, the commission postponed its vote to allow time for the applicant to try to come to terms with neighbors.

Hutton said her clients had recently revised their plans and lowered a view-obstructing breakfast nook by 2 feet to 12 feet. Under city code, residents may build as high as 18 feet even if a structure blocks a view, said city Planning Director Joyce Parker-Bozylinski.

Frank Angel, the attorney for Smith and Mack, said the city was obligated to avoid the obstruction of private views to the greatest extent feasible. He expects the case to end up at the California Coastal Commission.

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