Council favors project without a plan

An Arroyo Chico family's plans for an addition to their home were shot down at the Aug. 31 council meeting.

The City Council overturned a Design Review approval of a remodel in favor of the Blue Line alternative, for which no plan was submitted either to the board or the council. The board was directed to consider a concept the neighbors supported but the board had rejected in favor of what was dubbed the called the Pink Line Plan. Both the plan and the alternative were named for the color of stakes to indicate heights of the proposals. An approved landscape plan was also questioned by the council.

"This is a very contentious project," said Liane Schuller, city zoning administrator. "It was acrimonious throughout three hearings."

Ellen and Stephen Milner want to enlarge their home at 426 Arroyo Chico.

"I do not believe anyone in Laguna should ever be put through what we have been put through," Ellen Milner said.

Stephen Milner called it "crappola," saying he would no longer be bullied as he stormed out of the council chamber.

Neighbors felt they had been duped by the board, which did not approve the Blue Line alternative they supported.

"This was exactly the kind of confrontations the Design Review Task Force wanted to avoid," said Lance Polster, project architect and a member of the task force.

Until the afternoon of the council meeting, the Milners and their attorney Lawrence Nokes thought they had an agreement with the appellants that would nullify the appeal.

"We were informed on the Tuesday of the meeting that the appellants had turned down or never agreed to the compromise," Nokes said.

Polster said they had no time to rally supporters for the Milners' project.

"We spent quite a bit of time and came up with a compromise worked out with appellant Eva Segovia, her attorney Gene Gratz, the Milners and me," Nokes said.

The compromise included pulling back the garage two feet behind the DRB-approved plan, removing a column and lowering the roof line on the side of the home next to Segovia's property. The proposed changes would not have affected grading or the quantity of dirt to be exported, according to Gratz.

Agreed-on modifications were submitted to the city by Polster in what he called "paste-on changes."

"However, those small changes make an enormous difference in the impact upon the home of Appellant Eva Segovia," Gratz wrote in an e-mail to the City Council, dated Aug. 30.

He and Nokes believed the compromise was in the best interest of both parties and the city, Gratz wrote.

"Not everyone gets what they wanted, but important concessions were made by each side for the benefit of the other, and the settlement retains most of what the Design Review Board approved, and results in a design which everyone agrees is neighborhood compatible and minimizes the impact on the neighbor who was most affected."

"Everyone appears to be unhappy in varying degrees, which is supposed to be the hallmark of a good settlement."

Gratz informed the council that the verbal settlement agreement had been negotiated with the notion that the appellants would all sign off on the compromise plans and agree not to appear at the appeal hearing to oppose or even comment on the project.

That didn't happen.

"I recognize, of course, that if someone does appear, they cannot legally be prevented from speaking; however, it would be seriously unfair to the Milners if the matter were to proceed as a contested hearing," Gratz wrote.

"In reliance on the settlement, Mr. Nokes has not submitted opposition or done his preparation for the hearing — nor, frankly, have I — and would be unreasonably prejudiced."

In the event that appellants did oppose the project or the settlement, Gratz would have preferred a continuation, but the Milners did not.

The appeal was not withdrawn nor was the hearing continued.

Segovia, 32 residents and more had filed the appeal after the third review board hearing. Several of the appellants spoke at the meeting, including Ann and Richard Schwartzsten, Sally Bellerue and Jacob Cherub.

"We all spoke at the [board] meeting about the Blue Line under the impression it was an agreement, but at the end of the meeting the Pink Line Plan was approved," Bellerue said.

Appellants claimed the board failed to approve a project that was modified (blue line staking) on the basis of an agreement between the applicants, their architect and the neighbors.

Nokes said the blue proposal came about when the applicants approached neighbors between the second and third hearings and asked what would satisfy them.

"The neighbors came up with the blue stringline," Nokes said. "It was not a plan and the stakes were not even certified."

Appellants also claimed the Pink Line Plan was not compatible with the neighborhood and did not comply with board directions. Further, the appeal stated that the board erred in approving plans that had been withdrawn.

"My argument was that Lance at the third meeting effectively withdrew the pink plan," Gratz said.

"Not even close," Polster said.

Despite overwhelming public testimony from neighbors who supported the blue proposal at the third meeting, the board rejected it in favor of the Pink Line Plan, 4-1.

A board majority felt their requirements had been met by the Pink Line Plan, as revised and staked, which had been certified. They specifically objected to the additional 35 cubic yards of grading the blue proposal would require.

Veteran board member Ilse Lenschow voted to deny the project. She preferred the blue plan and was discouraged because neighbors had seen no plan for it.

Neither had the board, or for that matter, the council.

Board member Leslie LeBon, an architect, indicated her belief, based on neighbors' comments, that they don't want anything built there.

Nokes concurred, adding that whatever the board approves on the site will be back in front of the council on appeal.

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