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Pike still fishing for project approval

Gale Pike’s proposal to subdivide his Thurston Drive has been an uphill battle.

Pike has been trying to develop the property since the 1970s and the latest of many proposals appears to be in trouble. City staff is advising the Planning Commission to decide at Wednesday’s meeting if the findings can be made for a variance to extend Thurston Drive, but to postpone a decision on the project until Pike submits a revised tentative parcel map with fewer homes on smaller lots than proposed. Or the commission could continue the hearing to the Dec. 12 meeting to allow staff the time to prepare a resolution of denial for the commission to review and recommend to the council, which has the final say. A variance to extend Thurston Drive does have staff approval.

“Staff is recommending that we approve the road extension variance, but also that we continue the proposal indefinitely because they have a suggestion for a different plan with only two residential lots, tightly clustered,” Commission Norm Grossman said.

“Pike has the absolute right to build one home on the undivided parcel. The length of the [Thurston Drive] beyond 750 feet for the driveway to the three residential lots is what triggers the variance. His project hinges on the variance. The proposed project cannot be developed without it.”

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A decision on the staff’s recommendations was forestalled at the Nov. 7 commission meeting by the applicant’s request to continue the hearing due to the absence of one of the commissioners.

Pike is requesting approval of a tentative tract map that cuts his 13.3-acre property into six parcels, three of them to be developed into residential building sites. The construction of the homes is not part of the application, but the potential impacts are addressed in the environmental review. The extension at the dead-end of Thurston Drive would include new street paving, a cul de sac, retaining walls and on-street parking.

Neighbors and community activists oppose the project as proposed.

Several dozen of them appeared at the Planning Commission review of the draft Environmental Impact Report in July, according to Richard Holmes.

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Besides neighbors who submitted comments on the report, opponents include Village Laguna and Temple Hills Community Assn.

John Monahan and Barbara Metzger wrote in an analysis for the Village Laguna board that the report was thorough and informative, especially in its clear identification of controversial issues and significant and unmitigated impacts. However they disagreed with the conclusions, including the determination that the proposed 8,000-square-foot homes would blend with surrounding homes, which they claimed average 1,800 square feet. The report of less-than-significant impact on wildlife because of surrounding residential development was also disputed.

Temple Hills resident Fran Chilcote said she sees a variety of birds everyday, including red-tail hawks that hunt small prey, a kestrel that also hunts in the area and occasionally, flocks of pigeons. She has seen as many as eight deer in one group and she frequently hears the howl of coyotes at night.

Former Planning Commissioner Becky Jones expressed concerns abut the impacts on views of the ocean and canyons from existing residences, the size and location of the proposed homes and home sites, that sufficient distance be maintained between the building envelopes and the drainage course on the property so it will not be impacted by fuel modification requirements around the homes and the width and use of privately owned Thurston Drive.

Jones also found fault with the estimated excavation of 2,200 cubic yards of cut and 90 cubic yards of fill, which she said, severely undercuts the intent of the city code.

Grading will increase the danger of landslides, which would be further exacerbated by residential development that adds the risk of over-watering landscaped areas, opined Temple Hills Drive resident Lorna B. Shaw.

Former Pike consultant Greg Vail described, in a 2004 submittal to staff, the applicant’s proposal as an effort to create a project that requires no variances for design features, adheres to all applicable provisions of the general plan and Residential Hillside Protection zoning, incorporates design features to avoid and fully mitigate environmental impacts and provides comprehensive best management programs for water quality control and fuel management.

Vail justified the 200-foot extension of Thurston Drive as the “minimum necessary to provide conforming, non-variant access, lot frontage, lot size and configuration, building sites, parking and retaining wall designs needed to create a three-lot, sub-division as provided in the settlement agreement dated May 24, 2001, between the city of Laguna Beach and the applicant and to make the existing non-conformities legally conforming.”

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However, a summary of the environmental impacts identifies four significant impacts that at present either cannot or have not been mitigated.

The proposal, according to the summary, conflicts with the general plan by requiring the removal of vegetation within a drainage course and associated setback and by proposing construction or grading of slopes of 45 degrees or more on Lot 1. A small portion of development area proposed for Lots 2 and 3 also have slopes greater than 45%.

There is no mitigation to reduce these impacts below a level of significance.

Two more general plan conflicts deal with the impact on emergency access due to the substandard roadway width and neighborhood parking on Thurston Drive that would prevent vehicles from providing fire protection services. The conflicts could be mitigated by the purchase of the privately owned drive from the owner, which would allow Pike to widen the street and restrict neighborhood parking or Pike could work a deal with the street owner. Neither option has been implemented. The impacts remain significant and unmitigated, according to city documents.

The settlement in 2001 allows Pike to process a subdivision map with three residential lots, including a coastal development permit and any necessary variances or other exceptions. The city must process the subdivision map, but made no commitment to approve it.

Temple Hills resident Ron Chilcote is of the opinion that Pike will reject the staff recommendation to reduce the project to two homes, but he hopes that it will prompt Pike to consider selling the property at a “reasonable” price for conservation and preservation of open space.

The Temple Hills Assn. once joined the city to try to buy the property, but the offer was refused. Chilcote has been talking to potential conservation buyers for years.

The property is in the Temple Hills residential neighborhood. The existing pavement ends just before the project site, which is bordered by residential properties to the east, west and south and by Park Avenue to the north. The large unimproved hillside site is identified in the city’s general plan as having high value habitat and a significant water course.

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Pike’s proposal for the development of the property is scheduled to be heard by the Planning Commission on Wednesday in the City Council Chambers, 505 Forest Ave. Staff recommendations are available on the city’s web site, www.lagunabeachcity.net.



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