Advertisement

Is private seawall breaking coastal rules? State board will decide

Is private seawall breaking coastal rules? State board will decide
The fate of a 10-year-old seawall near Victoria Beach rests with the California Coastal Commission, which will consider an appeal from two of its commissioners. (Don Leach / Coastline Pilot)

The private 11-foot-tall seawall that protects a house on Lagunita Drive in Laguna Beach has been standing since 2005, but a desire by the homeowner to extend the structure has put it in the sights of the California Coastal Commission.

The work, including a remodel of the home, was approved by the city's Design Review Board last year, but the decision was appealed by two coastal commissioners, Mary Shallenberger and Effie Turnbull-Sanders. They argued that the city had violated policies of its Local Coastal Program because the structure hinders public access and poses a threat to the level of sand on Victoria Beach.

Advertisement

The Coastal Commission postponed voting on the appeal from Shallenberger and Turnbull-Sanders during its June meeting, saying it wanted to get the opinion of the State Lands Commission, which oversees 4 million acres of tidelands and beds of streams, lakes and rivers and provides input to the

Coastal Commission.

Advertisement

As of last week, a new hearing date had not been scheduled.

But according to Lands Commission spokeswoman Sheri Pemberton, the wall is not near the water break and thus is outside of the agency's jurisdiction.

Pemberton said staff would notify the homeowner of its conclusion in a letter.

The Design Review Board in March 2014 approved the permit that would allow for an extension of the 80-foot-long seawall by 28 feet along with other remodel plans for the 4,878-square-foot house, including the conversion of a crawl space into a living area and the reconfiguration of outdoor decks.

Advertisement

The applicant has since removed several elements from project plans but still wants to stabilize and extend the seawall by 28 feet, backfill an excavated area under the house and make "minor" foundation repairs.

The seawall extension would protect the house, an existing sewer line that runs under the property and a storm drain outlet that sits 11 feet north of the end of the current wall, a Coastal Commission staff report says.

Jim Conrad, architect for the homeowner, said he hopes that withdrawing certain remodel elements will make the seawall extension more amenable to commissioners.

"We're trying to do the right thing," Conrad said. He declined to identify the homeowner.

The single-family home was built before the adoption of the Coastal Act in 1972. The current resident purchased the house in 2013, eight years after the seawall was installed.

In 2005, the Coastal Commission issued an emergency permit to the then-owner of the property allowing the construction of the seawall to combat erosion. As part of that approval, the owner was given 60 days to apply for a regular coastal development permit but never received an application, according to the commission staff report.

Shallenberger and Turnbull-Sanders filed their appeal in May 2014, alleging the city did not consider locations farther inland for the seawall as stipulated in the 2005 permit. The commissioners also claimed the city did not address the potential harm the seawall may have on the beach or the public's ability to access the shoreline.

The Lagunitas Homeowners Assn. approved the original remodel project in January 2014. It owns the beach area behind the home, an irregular strip of land that is 50 to 150 feet wide. The public can access the beach via stairs that descend from Dumond Drive.

Advertisement

The Coastal Commission staff report acknowledges that the property is more susceptible to erosion and waves because it sits lower than surrounding parcels, and that the seawall extension is "necessary" to shield the house from these problems.

Projects involving seawalls are extremely rare in Laguna Beach, said Nancy Csira, city zoning administrator.

"We receive applications from people who want to do stuff on a blufftop lot, but we discourage it because the Coastal Commission won't approve it," Csira said.

Advertisement
Advertisement