A Newport Beach local government watchdog has taken his appeal of approvals for a new luxury home atop a Corona del Mar bluff to the California Coastal Commission after the city turned away his objection because he didn't pay a $1,536 fee to have the item reviewed.
Jim Mosher knew the city charges a fee to challenge Planning Commission decisions on zoning code variances, like the ones the commission OKd last month for a coastal development permit for property owner Darrin Ginsberg to build a custom home, including an elevator and a rooftop pool, at 2607 Ocean Blvd.
But Mosher claimed the commission's approvals violated the city's Local Coastal Program, which guides development closest to the shore, and he argued that city code doesn't address fees for appeals of coastal development permits, which he said are separate of variances.
However, the city clerk's office, which received Mosher's appeal last month, wrote a reply letter affirming the need for a fee. "An appeal of part of a project/decision is an appeal of the whole project/decision," the letter stated.
That means Mosher's appeal was considered an appeal of the variances and the associated coastal development permit, and variance appeals come with a charge.
Mosher tried unsuccessfully to appeal that interpretation, which was made by Deputy Director of Community Development Jim Campbell. Because Mosher did not pay the fee, the city returned his forms and the appeal was not considered.
Had he succeeded in getting his appeal in the city pipeline, it would have been heard by the City Council.
Mosher submitted his appeal to the Coastal Commission over the weekend.
He reminded the Planning Commission of his umbrage at its most recent meeting Thursday.
"I'm sure this is not the first time or the last that a member of the public has been faced with an arbitrary and clearly absurd claim by staff about what our publicly adopted codes say. What I want to make sure you understand [is] that the public is not supposed to have to take such rulings lying down," he said. "When staff tells us the word 'white' in this code means 'black,' they are not supposed to have the last word on it. We're supposed to be able to appeal that reading … and [it] should not cost $1,536, which is what I was told it would."
Most coastal development permits are handled by the city zoning administrator, but the Ocean Boulevard proposal is more complex. The owner sought zoning code variances to build a three-story, 4,500-square foot house on a steep, irregularly shaped lot.
Mosher contended the variance approvals violated the Local Coastal Program's standards on maximum floor area and minimum front and back yard setbacks — the buffers between the house and the lot boundaries. He claimed the commission had the authority to approve variances only under the zoning code and not the LCP.
Without variances, the house would be limited to 2,865 square feet, substantially less than what could go on a regular rectangular plot in Corona del Mar, according to a city staff report.
The proposed home has been the subject of controversy over its size and potential to block ocean views.
Other opponents have said the house would be too big for the lot and that the code exceptions create an unfair "special privilege" for the owner.