Neighbors at odds over home project

A resident whose home project was approved by the Design Review Board, the City Council and the Orange County Superior Court has hit a roadblock.

South Laguna property owner Mark Towfiq sought approval from the Parking, Traffic and Circulation Committee to limit parking for 145 feet in front of his and a neighbor's property for about nine months during construction of his new home on South Coast Highway.

The request was opposed by neighbor Michael Wilson, who opposes the Towfiq project.

The committee voted 4 to 3 on Oct. 27 to table the request.

On Monday, Wilson's representative, Fred Talarico, sent photographs to City Council members showing debris being dumped over the public right of way on Coast Highway into a large parked truck.

Talarico asked the council to take action.

"Grading and dumping will continue, but smaller trucks will be used," City Manager John Pietig said Tuesday. "The trucks will get onto the property via the driveway, rather than parking on Coast Highway until they get permits from Caltrans."

Pietig declined to comment on the photographs or the accompanying email requesting action by the council.

Talarico advised the council at the Nov. 1 meeting that the amount of grading, and the export of debris and dirt for the project, had been underestimated.

"We have long held that there is a lot of construction occurring at this site that has never been analyzed correctly by the city," said Talarico.

He said grading estimates started with the "extreme minimum and jumped to 240 cubic feet of exported debris and dirt.

"We are asking the council to pay the utmost attention to this project because we don't believe they have told you everything they are going to do with this site, and we have had that contention for a very long time," Talarico said.

Mayor Toni Iseman asked Pietig if grading amounts could be changed after a project was approved and was informed that it depended on the amount of the change.

"I believe they would have to go back to the Design Review Board if this was going to be a material change in grading the project design," Pietig responded.

Minor changes could be approved "over the counter," sans a public hearing, Pietig said.

Wilson's legal advisors formally notified the city earlier that day of concerns about the amount of grading, the effect of the project on water quality and the need for a permit to access the property over a sidewalk that does not have a curb cut.

"We heard back that the grading is within the stated limits, but there was no comment on water quality or access issues," Talarico said Tuesday.

Talarico's remarks to the council were only the most recent attack on the lack of environmental safeguards on the project.

Wilson's legal challenge to the city's approval of the project began with the undisputed fact that an environmental impact report was not required by the city.

However, Judge Ronald L. Bauer ruled Oct. 19 in favor of the city, citing exemptions listed in the California Environmental Quality Act.

His decision allowed Towfiq and his wife, Carol Nakahara, to proceed with the demolition of three dilapidated structures on the site to make way for a single large home and garage.

"Not surprisingly, the focus of the petitioner's (Wilson) grievance lies not in the removal of some aging and uninteresting wood frame buildings, but rather in their replacement by a new residence that will be close to Wilson's home and will reduce his ocean view," Bauer wrote in his minute order.

An appeal of the ruling is pending, Talarico said.

Also still unresolved is the quest for public pedestrian access across the Towfiq property, orchestrated by retired county Parks Department Chief Eric Jessen, and vehicular access to the property, which is disputed by Wilson.

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