The proposal for a new home that was considered by members of the Planning Commission to be an affront to the city’s building process was soundly denied at the body’s meeting last week, with several commissioners excoriating the project’s architect.
The project came before the Planning Commission because it required five variances and one conditional use permit, in addition to its three design review actions.
“This really isn’t a ‘try it out’ type of place,” said Commissioner Raymond Cheng, criticizing architect A.C. Lee after he presented the project. “We’re counting on your professionalism when you walk in here.”
The home proposed, an Italian revival, was to cover two lots at 1285 Oak Grove Ave. At 12,784 square feet, it would have exceeded the allowable livable square footage by more than 4,400 square feet and the maximum lot coverage by more than 2,100 square feet. The plan also included a 720-square-foot accessory home that cut into the side yard setback and would have kept an existing perimeter fence that both encroached into city easements and was taller than allowed.
“We didn’t realize it was such a big battle to get approval, so we’ll work with the city to see which direction we should be in,” Lee said during his presentation. “From our standpoint, we invested a lot of time — almost a year — in all of the designs and models. We don’t expect this to get approved on the first shot.”
Of homes within 500 feet of this property, the one most exceeding its maximum living space only did so by 830 square feet (some others did so by fewer than 200) and this house would actually exceed each of its immediately neighboring homes in size by more than 8,000 square feet.
“As my colleagues have said tonight, this home is inappropriate in every single way,” said Susan Jakubowski, who was leading her second meeting as chair of the Planning Commission.
Vice Chair Howard Brody was animated in his criticism, questioning why Lee would have come this far knowing the project didn’t have a dream of approval by the Planning Commission.
“Why’d you go forward with it?” he asked. “There’s nothing ambiguous with it. This is a swing and a miss, big time. You’re saying you were aware of this back in June. My question is, why are we here? What do you hope to accomplish tonight, besides a denial?
“This is not even in the city where the ballpark is located,” Brody later added. “This is so bizarre. I would maybe see this in Tuscany on 20 acres, not here. This denigrates the community.”
There was a large audience turnout for this project, as well, many of whom were against a new home on that property altogether. Resident Shirley Jagels, known for her advocacy for historic preservation in San Marino, is leading an effort to designate the current home as a historic landmark and provided the city an assessment of the home by Monrovia-based Historic Preservation Services that contradicted the report obtained from McKenna Historic Assessment by the homeowners.
“I actually think tonight is a good use of our time because it sheds lights on issues with our own city government,” she said. “The City Council has, in the past, failed to do their job in protecting our historic resources. We’ve already developed our community and it’s unfortunate that there isn’t a lot of vacant land here, but that doesn’t mean we should allow this project.”
Jagels, whose family owned 1285 Oak Grove Ave. for decades, also is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with the city for its narrow approval of the demolition of the home at 1470 Virginia Road, which she argues should be deemed a historic landmark. (She also is suing the homeowners seeking the demolition.)
Notably, Brody made a point to say he would not accept an assessment from McKenna, implying the firm could be financially persuaded to reach a conclusion sought by any party.
Planning and Building Director Aldo Cervantes called for a project denial, as opposed to a continuation, because variances and conditional use permits are meant to allow exceptions to homeowners whose properties are unique enough that strict following of building codes would be prohibitive. Cervantes said the granting of these variances would constitute a special privilege.
“The subject site would be the second largest home in the neighborhood if approved,” he explained. “The only other home that would be greater stands at 16,838 square feet, and that home is on a lot that is more than 10 acres.”
The full Planning Commission summarily denied the project outright. Jakubowski recommended that Lee directly work with neighbors in a follow-up design to help make this process easier next time.
“The architects who seem to do the best are the ones who do work with the neighbors,” she said. “I think if you had spoken to them face to face, you would have gotten the information we’re giving you tonight much, much earlier on.”
“I think it’s in your best interest as an architect to let your clients know that asking for five variances is disrespectful to our design guidelines,” Cheng said. “I think it’s unfair to your client that, as a professional architect, you’ve gone so far down the path and come up with something that isn’t approvable.”
Cervantes also updated the Planning Commission on his work toward producing an ordinance for historic preservation in San Marino, something being sought with increasing volume by residents.
After a public hearing at the previous Planning Commission meeting, Cervantes said he has been working with the Los Angeles Conservancy in crafting an effective ordinance with teeth for enforcement. He said he also plans on reviewing the ordinance San Gabriel recently adopted.
“There are various changes that can improve the situation, but obviously, we have a lot of work to do,” Cervantes said.
There will be a public meeting from 6-8 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, in the Barth Community Room at Crowell Public Library to solicit public input on the ordinance.