When Alex Chen, a developer looking to build and possibly live in La Cañada, bought a 3,147-square-foot house at 4200 Mesa Vista Drive, he envisioned a 6,173-square-foot, two-story replacement with a pool and a sizable basement.
What he got was a battle with next-door neighbor Sok Nam, who claims Chen's vision is a step toward mansionization in an otherwise low-key neighborhood.
Nam appealed a May planning commission approval of Chen's project, stating the proposed house would infringe on his privacy and disturb neighbors during its prolonged construction. His appeal was heard last week by the La Cañada Flintridge City Council.
"This project is too high, it's too big and it's too much for this tiny, quiet, mature neighborhood on a narrow private street," Martin Burton, a La Cañada attorney representing Nam, told council members in the Nov. 21 hearing. "It doesn't just violate the neighborhood averages — it blows past them in every particular."
Chen's property sits on a cul-de-sac at the end of Mesa Vista, a private road that snakes uphill toward scenic Cherry Canyon. The street's homes range in size, from smaller houses near Descanso Drive at the southern end to larger properties northward, with an average of 3,290 square feet.
Planner Chris Gjolme told council members that with some modifications — including reducing the basement's area from the original 2,200 square feet and redistributing some excavated land in lieu of hauling it away — Chen's proposal passed muster with the city's planning commission.
"Staff's direction during our review, in the initial infancy of this project, was to make sure that we have a compliant product," he said. "The new building would actually remedy existing encroachments demonstrated by the current residence."
La Cañada architect Georgie Kajer, who lives in another part of town, expressed concerns about a building with nearly 7,200-square-feet of habitable space being "shoe-horned" into a hillside lot. She asked the council to exercise discretion in determining whether the project would be an asset to the area.
Council members largely supported Chen's plans, acknowledging the city's efforts to combat mansionization by not counting basements toward a home's total square footage.
"The owner has worked very hard to meet the concerns of his next-door neighbor and the community at large," said Mayor Pro Tem Terry Walker. "Construction is not fun — it's no fun no matter where you are — but we can't deny projects because there's going to be construction."
Nam's appeal was denied by a unanimous 3-0 vote (council members Jon Curtis and Greg Brown were absent).