Commission Rejects Zone Text Amendment Proposal

Members of the Beverly Hills Planning Commission unanimously rejected a zone text amendment proposal for the Trousdale Estates area during its Nov. 9 meeting that would have permitted property owners who have the right to have a second story to instead request the construction of a daylighting basement through a new R-1 Permit process.

The proposal was brought forth by a team representing a property owner of an empty lot on the eastern part of Hillcrest Road, whose magnificent views overlook the ocean and greater Los Angeles County area. The applicant is seeking to build a day-lighting basement with two retaining walls instead of a second story to avoid obstructing his uphill neighbor’s view.

“We believe we have come up with a proposal to amend the Beverly Hills Trousdale code that is of benefit to the community,” said Jason Somers, project representative and president of Crest Real Estate. “We’ve really worked hard to come up with something that protects it at all levels and always has the requirement, now or in the future, to come back in front of your commission to make sure that if someone is taking something away…it is because it is enhancing the views of a neighboring property owner.”

While Planning Commission leaders lauded the applicant and his representatives for their creativity and collaborative spirit in finding a solution that would have also benefited the uphill neighbor, they ultimately rejected their zone text amendment request and proposed construction project, stating that it wasn’t justified, would adversely affect residents and would undermine the neighborhood’s character, scale and integrity.

“As a matter of public policy, which is what we’re talking about here, this would not be a good thing for a new ordinance or a good thing for the culture or history of Trousdale,” Planning Commissioner Chair Gary Ross said. “I share with my colleagues not just ambivalence about this but lack of support.”

Trousdale area development standards are some of the most restrictive in the city. In order to preserve views and maintain the unique character of the area, all 599 single-family residential lots in the Trousdale area are required not to exceed a 14-foot height limit. The height restrictions were placed in 1985 and were revised in 1987.

Under Trousdale’s current zoning ordinances, the applicant’s construction project wouldn’t be allowed. Trousdale’s zoning ordinances currently limit grading on properties only to the existing level pad and in areas that do not exceed a 20% slope. The applicant’s project requires grading that goes beyond the existing level pad in an area with a slope of at least 45% and possibly 60%.

In order to amend the Beverly Hills Municipal Code, the Planning Commission would have to first vote in support of the proposed zone text amendment. Next, they would have to direct staff to draft a resolution. Afterward they would vote on whether they support recommending the resolution to the City Council.

Although the zone text amendment proposal would have allowed exceptions to development standards in the Trousdale area, it would have applied only to a limited number of residents. According to the Planning Commission’s report, only two of the 14 properties identified as having either partial or complete second stories are also greater than one acre and would therefore qualify—one of which is the applicant’s property.

To facilitate such projects, the applicant’s representatives proposed changing the city’s municipal code to allow grading and excavation beyond the existing level pad on slopes that exceed 20% in order to construct a daylighting basement.

During the more than two-hour meeting, some commissioners expressed concern over the proposed construction project, saying it would cause congestion on Trousdale’s already narrow and winding roads given the amount of trucks it would take to remove all the dirt. Other commissioners said the zone text amendment request failed to meet the city’s benchmark.

“When I’m looking at a zone text amendment, I’m thinking it has to either be something for the properties affected that everyone wants or the city decided it’s a good thing for everyone,” said Planning Commissioner Jeff Wolf. “ I appreciate the attempts made and the desire to try to work with the neighbor, but I have to look at it from the standpoint of the community in general, and from that standpoint for this zone text amendment I can’t make the findings and won’t be supporting recommending this to the City Council.”

The Planning Commission also heard from members of the public. “Even though generally we would want consistency with codes, over time there are situations where a zone text amendment may help a neighbor or resident,” one member of the public who supported the proposal said over video. “It shouldn’t be denied because of a generalized fear or conjecture.”

However, other Trousdale residents disagreed.

“The language of the amendment is very vague,” one Trousdale resident argued.

“When things are decided in one or two meetings, there can be unintended consequences,” another resident said, pointing to privacy and comfort issues for neighboring property owners.

Some commissioners suggested that they might be more amenable to a request from an applicant that asks for flexibility in where a second story could be built, as a way to help minimize the impact on the uphill neighbor’s view.

The applicant and his project representatives will have an opportunity to appeal the Planning Commission’s decision in December. However, Somers told the Courier he’s not sure yet what they will do.

“The issue was that they seemed to feel that by providing one daylighting basement… somehow this opened the avenue for others to achieve it, even though the language is very specific that it couldn’t be approved on any other property where it would have a detrimental impact,” he said.

“If this was the same condition on other properties, where we were helping a neighbor and not hurting others, why would that not be accepted within the code? Isn’t that what we are trying to do—to make sure we are good neighbors?”