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LCF Council considers new law to stem tide of setback encroachments

La Cañada City Council members considered Tuesday whether the city’s policy on granting building projects setback modifications might be too lenient in some cases and too strict in others, inviting planning staff to take a stab at drafting more consistent legislation.

Community Development Director Susan Koleda requested the council determine the need for an ordinance that would clarify when requests to encroach upon the city’s mandated setbacks are justifiable, and should be approved, or not. Such an ordinance might also make it easier for compliant projects to proceed under less stringent ministerial approval.

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Currently, the city asks builders to maintain 25 feet of unbuilt space in the front of a property, 15 feet in the rear and keep side setbacks to 10% of a lot’s width, between five and 20 feet.

“An area that is free of structures does provide safety and certainly in this community provides for the privacy of adjacent neighbors,” Koleda said.

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New homes must adhere to these standards before they’re built, but the picture gets murkier when properties are added onto or renovated.

Builders with plans that creep into setbacks can seek a modification review through the community development director or Planning Commission that considers the unique features of a lot. Some builders may keep a home’s roof or corner walls intact but otherwise demolish the property and seek a setback modification through a director’s review to legitimize the work.

“There’s always going to be a way someone’s going to be able to wiggle around the rules,” Koleda told council members. “But we would do our best to cover all the instances in which the council feels it is appropriate to either be stricter or make this a ministerial permit where possible.”

The timing for review is appropriate as the city is refining its zoning code and could put a new proposal before the Planning Commission later this year.

Koleda said a new ordinance might also streamline compliant projects by exempting them from costly and cumbersome California Environmental Quality Act mandates.

Council members allowed the Planning Department to draft an ordinance that would go before the Planning Commission and then the council for approval.

“There are areas where loopholes need to be closed and there are others where we can make it more automatic and easier,” said Councilman Greg Brown.

Parking problem

Alminar Avenue homeowner Jon Burke asked council members Tuesday to revisit a section of the city’s municipal code regarding how long vehicles may be parked on city streets, complaining a neighbor of his has continually moved his RV between the street and his driveway for the past five months, incurring numerous code violations and citations.

Code (8.10.030) states vehicles cannot be stored in the public right-of-way for more than 24 consecutive hours and are barred from returning to the street for the 48 to 72 hours after a warning is issued. Burke says his neighbor now parks the vehicle at a relative’s house nearby to skirt further citations.

“He doesn’t move it until the police come,” Burke said. “The code doesn’t address that — there’s nothing in it that says he can’t do that.”

Council members agreed to examine the matter at a future meeting.

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