The county Regional Planning Department agreed this week to schedule hearings and begin processing a developer’s proposal for a residential and commercial project in Malibu’s Civic Center area despite a county Board of Supervisors’ rule against considering new projects in unincorporated areas headed for cityhood.
Malibu Partners, a Florida development company, wants to put nine detached homes, 136 condominiums, and a commercial strip on 18.8 acres in the heart of the new city. Last year, heeding the objections of Malibu Knolls property owners living directly above the site, the county Planning Commission rejected the firm’s $60-million plan for a 300-room hotel and 110 apartments.
A 1982 Board of Supervisors’ resolution prohibits the planning department from accepting new discretionary projects once the board has scheduled an incorporation election. Malibu residents voted to incorporate in June and elected a City Council, but the supervisors obtained a court ruling that delays the actual date of incorporation until next year.
In response to a request for a legal opinion from the Regional Planning Department, County Counsel Chuck Moore told the planners that the latest Malibu Partners proposal is not new but a revision of the proposal rejected last year, and therefore exempt from the supervisors’ order.
“Technically, this project is still alive,” said county planner John Hartman. “It still has the same tract and case number. It was an oversight on the developers’ part that they didn’t appeal last year’s commission decision,” he said.
But residents who would be affected by the project disagree.
“This sounds like a brand-new project to me,” said Sarah Wan of the Malibu Township Council, which has been tracking the developers’ plans. “Given the board’s resolution, regional planning should have rejected this proposal at the desk.”
Malibu Knolls resident Randy Le Ferr said that any plans for the site should come before the new city for approval.
“Furthermore, the developers promised us after getting trounced by the commission last year that they would come back to us and start over at ground zero with this project,” he said. “Our attorneys shook hands over it. This is really Paleolithic planning, if Malibu Partners has taken it back to the county without even talking to us,” said Le Ferr.
Whether Malibu Partners even has the right to develop the property is also in dispute. “We’ve had conflicting representation on this project,” said Don Culbertson, a planner for the county. “Two different parties claim to be in control of the property.”
Malibu developer Joan Knapp and Malibu Partners have been wrangling in the courts over title to the property since 1982. But according to Hartman, regional planning is not concerned with ownership but only with the proposed land use.
“Before the final map is filed, we would of course require a title report confirming ownership,” he said.