The California Coastal Commission is keeping U2 guitarist the Edge waiting a while longer over the question of what he can build near a pristine ridge top overlooking Malibu.
On Thursday the influential panel voted unanimously at its meeting in Santa Barbara to postpone a decision on rock star David Evans' proposal to build five mansions of 10,000 to 14,000 square feet each, all with swimming pools, in Sweetwater Mesa on the site of an ancient landslide.
The 12 commissioners put off taking action despite the commission staff's recommendation that the panel approve a revised plan for the houses. Jack Ainsworth, the panel's senior deputy director, had said the current configuration was the least environmentally damaging while allowing "for reasonable economic use of the property."
Several commissioners expressed concern that, even with concessions for siting and house heights, the project still violated habitat-protection provisions of a recently adopted local coastal program for the mountainous zone. The project would affect stands of purple needlegrass as well as rocky outcrops.
"The LCP should be followed explicitly," Commissioner Carole Groom said.
Commissioners and several speakers urged the development team to consider making the houses smaller and closer together to avoid damaging habitat and views. Several also suggested that two houses be eliminated, an action that an attorney for the developers said would make the project economically unfeasible.
Attorney Stanley W. Lamport submitted a letter saying that the most current valuation of the five lots is $10.75 million. Construction costs are projected to be at least $9.7 million. With only four developable lots, the letter stated, development costs would exceed the value by more than $1 million.
"We are prepared to take a look at designs that would address your concerns," Lamport said.
Letters of opposition have poured in. Among those who raised concerns were the National Park Service, Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, Serra Retreat homeowners and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, which back in 2011 had agreed to remain neutral on the project — then even more expansive — in exchange for money and dedicated open space.
Joseph Edmiston, the conservancy's executive director, said his group had been wrong to agree to those terms.
"The project is going to have tremendous ... effects," said Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks, chairwoman of the conservancy's board. "It goes against our mission on the conservancy of trying to protect habitat there. This is a real affront to it."