A small, cliff-side property just outside the gates of the Pacifica San Juan community is OK to build on, the City Council decided narrowly Tuesday night after listening to more than an hour of neighbors airing their objections.
While having the home in that location is not ideal, the council members lamented, the majority of them feared they might subject taxpayers to another land development lawsuit if they blocked the property owner from building on it.
"We cannot, as a matter of law, tell the applicant that he cannot build anything," Councilman Derek Reeve said. "This is almost identical to the case. … I have a responsibility to about 35,000 taxpayers in this city, and I cannot put them in that position again."
The .60-acre property along the west side of Avenida California will be rezoned so that a Ladera Ranch resident may build a house there, although it may not be the "dream home" he once envisioned.
will have to seek approval from San Juan's Design Review Committee as far as the architecture, lighting and landscaping are concerned. As currently planned, the home would be 4,096 square feet, two stories tall, with a basement and very modern in design. "We don’t want it to stick out like a sore thumb and devalue nearby properties," said San Juan's development director, Grant Taylor.
"It’s going to be a lose-lose—for the neighboring community and Mr. Darmal, who would probably only be happy if he got exactly what he drew up," Councilwoman Laura Freese said of the council's decision. She, along with Larry Kramer, cast dissenting votes.
"I don’t think it complies with all of the elements of the rezone," Kramer said. "I agree with the Planning Commission … this is almost like a house in the woods—it’s surrounded by all of this [wild shrub]."
The , because it felt the home was not compatible with those in the Pacifica San Juan neighborhood. It's likely that the Darmal residence, because of the oddly shaped, sloping lot, will have setbacks of only 10 feet from the front and 5 feet from the rear; the other homes have 20-foot setbacks.
, including safety issues with increased car trips on the windy, unpopulated Avenida California; the house blocking sweeping ocean vistas and breaking up the continuity of open space outside of the Pacifica San Juan gates; and the fact that developers billed the property as open space that would never be developed.
But Mayor Sam Allevato and Reeve were adamant that they had no choice but to approve the rezone. "We do have to protect the property rights of the individual, no matter how many people are opposed to it," Allevato said, adding that the city attorney, deputy city attorney and the applicant's legal counsels offered evidence proving its a legally buildable lot.
According to Taylor, Darmal, a Newport Beach-based doctor, purchased the tax-defaulted lot for $5,000 three years ago. Taylor said city planners were surprised to learn that the lot even existed, as it never showed up on any of their parcel maps.
In approving the rezone, the City Council also incorporated the Darmal property into the planning documents that guide development standards for Pacifica San Juan. Although the Darmal lot was previously zoned planned community, it was never included in those blueprints.