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Large homes at issue before council

Barbara Diamond

A special meeting has been scheduled at a special time, 7 p.m.

Tuesday, in the City Council Chamber to review Planning Commission

recommendations to stem the tide of “mansionization.” Mansionization


is a term coined for large homes built on small lots that are often

much larger than their neighbors’ houses.

The commission recommends better training for board members,

better explanation of the review intent and rules to new board


members and the public. Existing rules should be simplified and

interpretations counter to the original intent should be eliminated.

Commissioners were unanimous in rejecting new rules that would set

absolute numerical limits on structure sizes. They believe that that

appearance of the structure in context with the neighborhood is the

critical issue.

“Community character was a big issue in the vision process,” said

Commissioner Anne Johnson, who was a member of the Vision Laguna


Steering Committee. “The Planning Commission proposals that the

council will review Tuesday address many of those concerns.”

Commissioners held 14 meetings between Aug. 8, 2001, and Aug. 14,

2002, seeking public input on ways to moderate the size or appearance

of size in new homes or remodels. The Design Review Board and the

Laguna Beach Architects Guild contributed to the process.

“The three most controversial recommendations will be the method

of measuring the height of structures, prohibiting any intrusion into


the sideyard setbacks and requiring only two-car garages,” Johnson


Four of the five Planning Commissioners have served on the city’s

Design Review Board. Their findings basically endorsed the

conclusions reached in 1993 by the Design Review Task Force, which

concluded that “conditions existing in our community require a

site-specific, discretionary design review performed by a qualified,

well-trained board, applying standards and procedures that are

accessible and understood by all participants.”

The commissioners found that interpretation of existing

regulations had changed considerably in the last decade, particularly

in regard to height limits, which resulted in some structures

exceeding the 36-foot limit.

Turnover in the board membership accounts for some of the changes

in interpretation, the commission decided. Also, three changes in

staff liaison in the past decade disrupted continuity and

institutional memory.

The public is encouraged to attend the meeting. Copies of the

commission recommendations are available for review at the front

counter in City Hall.