City Upholds Decision to Allow Parcel Land Transfer

An appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval of a lot line adjustment dominated the City Council meeting this week, with neighbors opposing the decision on the grounds that the property owner plans to build a home on the nonconforming lot and is trying to skirt city zoning rules.
Ultimately, the council voted unanimously to uphold the commission’s approval of the adjustment and setback modification at 4628 El Camino Corto and the adjacent parcel to the east, which is currently a land-locked empty lot consisting of ravine.
The lot adjustment would add 4,140 square feet to the empty parcel to total 11,267 square feet from the owner’s initial 7,127, while the other lot would be reduced in size to 13,213 square feet from 17,353. This would make both lots in compliance with the minimum lot size of 10,000 square feet, paving the way for the developer to build at the property, neighbors and residents appealing the approval said.
“If you approve this request you’re going to be inundated by a whole bunch of other developers trying to find ways around your rules that don’t allow flag lots to create new flag lots, and build on them in the future,” said Richard Pumilia during the council’s public comments. “I think you’re really opening the Pandora’s Box here … by allowing this lot line adjustment to occur.”
Resident David Haxton also wrote in to support the appeal, saying that since the city no longer allows the creation of flag lots, the council should uphold the appeal. Although it won’t technically count as a flag lot because the back property won’t own the driveway, “for all practical purposes it will be a flag lot.”
“If the city council denies the appeal and allows this setback modification, a loophole will be created in the city’s zoning code,” Haxton argued. “The vacant lot in this case is unbuildable, and it becomes buildable only by adding land from the adjacent lot. What is really happening is the front lot is being subdivided. If you allow that in this case, then arguably all the large lots in the city can likewise be subdivided to add a second house via an easement.”
The owner, Khachik Grigorian of Gorian Development Inc., also spoke before the council, pointing out that both properties are legal parcels with separate deeds. He has been in communication with city planners since before he purchased the land, he noted, to get apprised of the zoning laws.
“I don’t want to hide anything,” Grigorian said. “Everybody was in agreement this is a legal lot and I can build on it with the easement.”
After some discussion about nonconforming lots and zoning codes, the council upheld the planning commission’s initial approval for the lot line adjustment and setback modification, acknowledging the tricky nature of zoning laws and allowing exemptions.
“One of the things we love about La Cañada is that it’s really unique and interesting, and in enforcing the zoning rules what makes it super hard is it’s unique and interesting,” quipped Councilman Rick Gunter, who spent eight years on the planning commission. “There are lots all over town that are odd shapes in odd places. Our permits here are organized around a set of rules and modifications. A setback modification for the easement is just a recognition that we have to apply something slightly different than we would if we were building something from scratch with no obstacles around it.”
Although the city no longer allows a person to divide one lot into two to create a flag lot, this land is already two separate properties, he added, and “the law is that if you have a legal lot, you can build on it.”
The council members emphasized that this decision was just one in a long process that the developer will have to undergo in order to eventually build a home on the lot, and that residents would have ample opportunity to have further say in any house development at the property.