Hillside house is up to council

CITY HALL— A hillside protectionist movement that has swept through City Hall since the 2007 election will take center stage Tuesday when the City Council considers an appeal to one of the most contentious residential hilltop development proposals in years.

The proposed two-story, 5,114-square-foot home at 1650 Hazbeth Lane would displace 19 vertical feet of earth atop a prominent hill at the foot of North Brand Boulevard at a time when homeowner sentiment to protect open space and views along the hillsides is at an arguably all-time high.

Over the past few months, the protectionist sentiment has driven the City Council to overhaul the design review process for all single-family homes as a way to facilitate more neighborhood compatibility among new projects, and has pushed ahead a comprehensive set of restrictive hillside development codes.

“A year ago, it may have not been quite the eyebrow-raiser that it has become,” Councilman John Drayman said. “In recent years, certain segments of the public view those hillsides as being part of a protected public amenity.”

In that sense, property owner Adel Luzuriaga said the timing for taking her hilltop plan before the City Council could be better. But Luzuriaga said she will be prepared.

The proposed project is well within all code requirements, with the floor area covering just 2% of the 6.8-acre site — far below the allowed 30%. It would also provide 50% more landscaped area than required and is 5 feet shorter than the maximum allowable height, according to city reports.

Luzuriaga, a Realtor, also reduced the amount of grading needed for the driveway by nearly 2,200 cubic feet, and on Friday said she would introduce another design compromise at the council meeting.

“I’m willing to compromise, I want to compromise. I’m gong to be waving to them, and I want them to wave to me,” she said. “I just want one house on a piece of land I’ve owned all this time.”

But opposition to the project — which needs a conditional-use permit because the amount of grading exceeds 1,500 cubic yards and the average current slope is more than 50% — has coalesced since applications for permits were first filed February 2007.

A group of residents has consistently tried to block the issuance of the conditional-use permit that would allow the project to move forward, but twice they have failed.

The city’s zoning administrator in July approved the permit, and an appeal to the now-defunct Board of Zoning Appeals in October produced a stalemate among its members, prompting 45 residents a week later to support an appeal to the City Council.

Neighbors have long held that the proposed project is incompatible with surrounding properties, intrudes upon their views and destroys part of the ridgeline.

“We’re not saying you can’t build, we’re just saying be more respectful of your neighbors and the environment,” said Delma Kirch, one of the lead appellants in the case.

The 18-foot-wide private drive that would extend more than 1,000 feet as it wraps around the hill up to the house is also a major sticking point with neighbors, Kirch said.

“We feel that the road is just outrageous,” she said.

Luzuriaga several months ago set up a website that provides viewers with detailed renderings, site maps and project descriptions.

Likewise, neighbors have gathered more signatures and distributed fliers opposing the project.

Months of back-and-forth suggestions and heated e-mails between the two parties will likely take a very public form Tuesday night when the City Council considers what has now become a familiar dilemma — how to balance individual property rights, especially if a project meets the required codes, with community sentiment?

Every single-family home design appeal brought to the council since the 2007 election has been rejected on the grounds of being incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood.

The City Council is scheduled to hear the case at its meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers, 613 E. Broadway.

 JASON WELLS covers City Hall. He may be reached at (818) 637-3235 or by e-mail at jason.wells@latimes.com.

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