Planning Commission wrestles with neighborhood
By Kelly Feser Eells
If the May 7 Planning Commission
meeting had a theme, it was Disguising the Unsightly. And a near-standing-room
only crowd came to participate.
In the first public hearing - a request for a modification of
fence height requirements - the applicant, Robert Baskin, prevailed.
At issue was the 10-foot fence Baskin constructed along the eastern
portion of his Aliso Street property, where it abuts the Masonic
The maximum fence height for
the low-density, residential area is 6 feet.
Although planning staff concurred that exterior ducting at the
rear of the Masonic building was unsightly, it noted that "most
of the unsightly items are higher than 10 feet, anyway"
and recommended denial of the (post-construction) variance on
the grounds that it constituted special privilege.
Baskin disagreed. Though the Masonic building "towers over
other residents' properties, I have a loss of privacy afforded
other Aliso Street residents. In my view, granting this variance
wouldn't constitute special privilege, but would merely restore
privileges afforded other property owners in the area."
Commissioner Marge Fay asked Baskin if he'd discussed the fence
with the owners.
"Yes, at length, and over a period of years. And with no
luck. I was told they don't have any funding for ducting, and
that I could screen it at my own expense."
Commissioner Craig Brown asked, "You state that the Masonic
Lodge agreed to the fence height?"
Baskin stated that no written agreement had been made, and that
"after it was constructed, there was a complaint from someone
at the lodge," but that the reason for the complaint was
"unclear. It may have been because of a 2-foot indentation
of the fence, which was on their lot line, around a eucalyptus
tree. But we fixed that."
Pleasant Avenue resident Ian Atkinson, who spoke on behalf of
the Masonic Temple building owners, said, "We are going
to be closing the lodge, although it's not on the market yet.
We'll be converting it to a single-family dwelling, and the fence,
well, it cuts off a lot of light; in the downstairs, especially.
And the kitchen trailer will be moved; it's certainly not a permanent
Brown made a motion to allow the 10-foot fence on a provisional
basis, "until the trailer and ducting are removed, then
we go to a six feet."
The motion passed four to two, with Commissioners Joe McAllister
and Fay voting "no." Commissioner Ynez Arce was absent.
The next public hearing, a request for a modification of rear
and side yard setback requirements for the "construction
of a carport," did not go over as well for the applicant,
Fulton Street resident Ajaz Khan or his spokesperson, local architect
"I think it's been 17 or 18 years since I've come before
the Commission with something staff wasn't inclined to approve,"
said Dieges, referring to the staff report recommending denial
of the project on the grounds that, combined with the requested
setback reductions of 20 and seven feet, respectively, "the
modification request also includes a lot coverage of 39.6 percent
where 35 percent maximum is allowed." The General Plan designation
for the site is medium density residential (three to four dwelling
units per acre) in a single family residential zone.
"I'm here defending myself after ace defense attorney Robert
Baskin," Dieges joked. "But I'm not here to do a Khan
job on the Commission," he said, referring to the property
"With all due respect to staff reports," said Dieges,
the "RV lot is already there." He indicated that the
proposed carport would provide shelter for an existing RV that
neighbors claim is being used as a residence.
"Regarding the occupancy of the trailer, it's my understanding
from County ordinances that, as long as it's on wheels, and it's
not to be a permanent building, people can stay in it."
"Not so," said Casias. "And, just to clarify,
county ordinances do not apply to the City of Ojai."
Casias also pointed out that "lot coverage is nearing 40
percent with this proposal. Entire front yard and driveway are
(already) concrete, and the carport, if created, would add to
the impervious structures" on the property.
Fulton Street resident Dave Clark said, "I was sad to see
that Jon Dieges was attached to this project, because I've got
great respect for him. As for the RV, it's connected to electricity,
water, etc., and I think it's disingenuous to suggest it's within
code. Every wall was taken down (of the original structure),
and it was, supposedly, planned as a remodel. But Mr. Khan's
home is 42 inches from (neighbor Francisco Jojorcas's house),
and there are 14 exterior lights on this property, including
one very large one out front. Clearly, this was designed to be
a group home.
The property is plumbed for three
kitchens, and the existing garage is partitioned down the middle
and has been furnished. It's my understanding that it's a licensed
residential care home now" - run by Emerald Group Home facilities
- "and that six juveniles and one or two adults will be
McAllister prompted the audience's laughter by saying, "there's
too much of this Mickey Mouse stuff going around, and it seems
no one's paying attention to any of these codes."
The Commission voted unanimously to deny the request.
Next on the agenda was a discussion item concerning the adoption
of the "required findings for denial" of a project
that had been reviewed during the Commission's April 16 meeting:
a 74,000 square-foot self-storage facility, to be located at
318 and 324 Bryant Street.
Casias explained that, due to a "three-three tie vote"
on April 16, the motion for further review of the proposed project
failed. "And now, staff has returned to the Commission with
reasons for (its) denial."
Commissioner Paul Blatz said that, before he discussed the item,
"I'd like to make it known that it's going to be my intention
to make a motion to rescind the April 16 decision of the Planning
Commission and ask that it reconsider this project."
Blatz, who was absent from the April 16 meeting, added, "I
do believe the applicant should have had (the benefit of) a clear-cut
majority" before the Commission moves forward to deny the
Cañada Street resident Larry Wilde said, "I'm very
naïve (about these things), but I'm assuming that this project
met all the architectural, setback, and CEQA requirements, so
I wonder: Why was it denied?"
Adams indicated that the project was legally permissible, but
that the reasons for its denial had already been discussed at
Brown said, "Basically, it was thought that the project
was too large."
Robert Sawyer, a Santa Paula-based real estate attorney representing
Kendall's firm, the Epic Group, elaborated. "The reasons
for the denial of the proposal don't deal with architectural
concerns; this use is permitted in an industrial zone and is
appropriate. The reasons for the denial were that this project
used a significant amount space, without proposing a (like) number
of jobs. As a former planning commissioner for Santa Paula, I
can sympathize - and I know that ambiance issues are very important
to Ojai. But," he concluded, citing a similar case in Davis,
California, "social and economic concerns shouldn't be addressed"
in this format.
"The bottom line is, it
would be far preferable for the Commission to reschedule a full
public hearing (on the issue)."
Country Club Drive resident Michael Shapiro said, "I rarely
speak before this Commission, but in this case, well ... I think
this proposed project is a blessing from God in disguise. One
thing I always notice when I'm taking my daughters to dance classes
in this neighborhood is the eyesore that's next to the proposed
facility. Maybe this project would put a little pressure on those
people to clean up the dump next door. All it's missing is a
couple of chained attack dogs to complete the picture."
Shapiro added, "for the last few summers, I've been taking
the family out in an RV, and one of the reasons I haven't bought
one is there's no place to store one. I already rent two separate
storage facilities in Ojai, and the occupancy rates are high.
I think honest competition would give consumers like me a break.
And as for my friend Stan Greene's comments about traffic (made
at the April 16 meeting), well, I'm typical of most people in
that I visit my storage facility once, maybe twice a year at
Ojai resident Stan Greene said that, "While I appreciate
Mr. Shapiro calling me a friend, what we have in this community
is what I call the 'white knight' scenario. That is, rather than
cleaning up areas like these, we argue that we can save the community
from squalor by changing the nature of an area. Like the Emerald
Iguana, for example. In my view, we should scale the project
down so it doesn't use up all the income-producing land around
Blatz then made a motion to rescind the Commission's denial and
schedule a new public hearing, with the original findings of
denial brought before that as-yet-unscheduled hearing. The motion
was approved unanimously.
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