In Split Decision, Second Story Approved by LCF Council

Homeowners on Normanton Drive will be allowed to add a second story to their residence, despite protests from many of their Paradise Valley neighbors who sought to persuade the La Cañada Flintridge City Council to overturn the Planning Commission’s prior approval of the project.
In a 3-2 decision Tuesday, Mayor Michael Davitt, Mayor Pro Tem Terry Walker and Councilman Len Pieroni all voted to deny Stephen Newsom and Tory Gong’s appeal, which was supported by a petition that included 86 signatures from neighbors, many of whom packed City Hall for Tuesday’s meeting.
Council members Greg Brown and Jonathan Curtis voted against the second-story addition.
“At the end of the day, the privacy of the neighbors is really what the issue is,” Mayor Michael Davitt said. “And I do believe that the conditions that the Planning Commission requested were very helpful.”
When the Planning Commission voted 3-2 to approve the second-floor review, its members stipulated that in order to address privacy concerns the homeowners had to reduce the depth of a balcony and delete proposed windows from the additional floor plans or raise the bottom sill to a height above the typical sight line.
Per Davitt’s suggestion, the City Council added a condition that the homeowners introduce mature vegetation to help screen the property.
The Planning Commission’s conditions didn’t do much to alleviate concerns among neighbors, many of whom spoke passionately against the proposal.
They argued that the addition would undermine the character of their community, pointing out that there are only four two-story homes in the entire 67-house Paradise Valley community, which otherwise is comprised of closely situated, single-level mid-century homes. Those few previous second-story additions were approved between 32 and 46 years ago, residents said.
Many neighbors also expressed concerns about massing, scale, the effect on views — and, despite the conditions set forth to address it, questions of privacy.
“They’ll still directly look into my living room,” Gong said. “This would be like living in a fish bowl.”
Thomas Hart said he feared the project could set a problematic precedent.
“Before moving here, we lived in Glendale,” he said, describing having moved to a quaint neighborhood of Spanish bungalow style homes in 1997. “Over the next 19 years, the neighborhood changed drastically, and it began when a couple of homes added second stories.
“At first, it didn’t seem to be a huge issue, but houses were torn down and replaced with two-story box-type dwellings, and none of this matches the design or aesthetic of the rest of the neighborhood. And because of larger homes, there were more people. Sometimes multiple families lived in one home, some turned into rentals, and our quiet street became very busy. There was noise and crime went up, too.
“Honestly, our once-quaint little street no longer felt like home and we began to look for a new place, not just a house on a street, but a neighborhood, and Paradise Valley is exactly what we were looking for.”
Councilwoman Walker said she didn’t think this addition — which will use existing attic space and raise the height of the current roof by 4 ½ feet — would have a drastic effect on the neighborhood.
On the other side, Brown offered a history lesson of his own, describing how LCF developed its second-story review process, which evolved from the more lenient county codes the city inherited when it was incorporated in 1976.
“Everybody wants a zoning code that … you can just do mathematically,” Brown said. “But there’s just too much variety in La Cañada. There are too many different shaped lots, too many types of neighborhoods, and the second-story review was designed to recognize that variation throughout the community.
“The second-story design review preserves the existing scale and character of a neighborhood,” he said, concluding that the addition would have “a very dramatic impact on the neighborhood.”
Larry Lachner, the architect behind the plans, said homeowners Lynn and Chris Knox could have opted to construct a single-story addition that would have avoided the type of controversial review that it underwent Tuesday and at the Planning Commission meeting in December. They opted against that, he said, partly out of consideration for their neighbors.
“The most important point here is that if we extended that ridge, it would completely block any view,” Lachner said. “They would have no view of any kind and they would have a neighbor even closer to them. … We decided to go with a two-story approach [because] we did not want to obstruct the views of the neighbors’ property and to be farther away from a potential fire or mudslide [closer to the hillside].”
Councilman Pieroni said he hoped neighbors would come to accept the addition and remain a close-knit neighborhood.
“I’ve been in La Cañada for a while,” he said, noting that he attended elementary school here in the 1970s. “And I have seen La Cañada change visually over that time. But I don’t think the character of the city has changed the way it has changed visually. It’s more about the people and the values our residents have.”

SOBER LIVING BILL

State Sen. Anthony Portantino introduced legislation in Sacramento last week that would allow local governments to regulate treatment facilities in residential neighborhoods, a topic that came before the City Council last year when residents on Green Lane discovered such a facility operating on their street.
Senate Bill 1317 would require facilities to provide written notification 30 days prior to operation and have parking plans, service plans and medical waste disposal plans.
Currently, there is little local jurisdiction over such facilities. As long as six or fewer people are being treated at once, those facilities are to be treated as single-family homes, according to Robert Stanley, LCF’s director of community development. Only a nuisance complaint or construction plans would warrant city regulation, he said.
“[Portantino] hopes that he can bring some common sense to the situation so that communities can have some level of comfort and control,” said Yvette Kim, a representative from his office. “Although these residential sober living facilities have excellent missions and they provide a necessary service, local communities have been preempted from requiring any reasonable public safety inspections or regulations. So we hope that this bill will hit the sweet spot between those who need care and provide cities some land-use authority.”

ADU TALK CONTINUES

The City Council continued its decision on amendments to regulations for accessory dwelling units to its meeting on March 20. Council members asked City Attorney Mark Steres to check on what limits to front-yard parking might be imposed.

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