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‘Complicated’ long-vacant Flintridge Avenue lot will be built once oaks removed

‘Complicated’ long-vacant Flintridge Avenue lot will be built once oaks removed
Plans for a home at 861 Flintridge Ave., designed by local architect Jay Johnson, include a two-story design with an attached four-car garage, subterranean basement and detached guest house. (City of La Cañada Flintridge)

A 13,237-square-foot residence and guest house on a long-vacant Flintridge Avenue parcel got the green light from planning commissioners last week, despite objections from neighbors over the size of the home and concerns the removal of several oak trees would harm the area’s character.

The commission was asked May 23 to decide on a second-floor review for the French country style home designed by local architect Jay Johnson and comprising an attached four-car garage and port-cochere, a 1,955-square-foot guest house and a 2,992-square-foot basement, the latter of which does not count toward the project’s total area.

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Commissioners also reviewed a conditional use permit, required for projects larger than 10,000 square feet, height variances for the main and guest house and a permit to remove six protected oak trees on the wooded 1.45-acre lot.

Property owner Ezra Callahan said he purchased the lot four years ago and has worked with county officials to mitigate septic issues that compromised the soil and resulted in a settlement agreement with the land’s previous owner.

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He explained a leach field on the property, a condition of the settlement, would require the removal of three oaks, while a circular driveway providing fire department access necessitated the removal of two prominently positioned oaks on the parcel’s west side.

On May 23 the La Cañada Flintridge Planning Commission approved plans for a house and guest house at 861 Flintridge Avenue, despite neighbor concerns that the removal of two prominent oak trees, pictured, would harm the area's wooded character.
On May 23 the La Cañada Flintridge Planning Commission approved plans for a house and guest house at 861 Flintridge Avenue, despite neighbor concerns that the removal of two prominent oak trees, pictured, would harm the area's wooded character. (Sara Cardine / La Cañada Valley Sun)

A sixth oak had a broken trunk, but city staff recommended the tree be preserved and maintained.

“This is a very complicated site,” Callahan told commissioners. “Where the house is situated, that is truly the only part of the property that can be developed. Within that framework we have made every effort possible to design a home that fits with the landscape and character of the neighborhood.”

Neighbors disagreed, claiming Callahan’s plans threatened the oak-studded character of the Woodleigh-Flintridge corridor.

“The CUP sought by the applicant and his architect, Jay Johnson, is as close to mansionization as it can get,” said neighbor Judy Cooper. “There are two beautiful, healthy, mature oaks at 861 Flintridge Avenue on the applicant’s chopping block. The applicant should be required to redesign his driveway plan to accommodate [them].”

Neighbor Scott Deacon encouraged commissioners to deny requests for a 5-foot variance on the height of the 37-foot main house and a 6-foot height variance for a nearly 21-foot tall guest house. He also had pointed remarks to offer about the project’s architect.

“When my wife first told me about this house I said, ‘It’s got to be a Jay Johnson,’” Deacon said. “He just keeps pushing the envelope and pushing the envelope and getting away with it. It’s ridiculous — we have rules and we need to follow the rules.”

Commissioners reminded neighbors Callahan’s total floor area is below the 14,382 square feet allowed for a lot of that size and explained his plan to replant oaks adhered to the city’s tree ordinance.

Commissioner Rick Gunter said he could grant the tree removal permit, given the commitment to replant three 72-inch boxed oaks and two additional smaller trees as replacements. Commissioner Henry Oh did not approve of the removal of the two west end oaks.

Unable to justify the height variance on the guest house, the panel asked Callahan to keep the combined height of the structure and pad to the 15-feet standard and approved the project 4-1, with Oh voting against.

“There’s a lot of emotion around developing properties in La Cañada because you live here because it’s rural and it’s lovely,” said Commission Chair Mike Hazen. “But we live in the 21st century, and people can buy property and have the freedom to develop them as they want as long as they stay within the guidelines.”

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