Council looks to change zoning law

Goal is to allow residents more leeway when rebuilding destroyed sites.

May 20, 2010|By Megan O’Neil

The City Council on Monday moved closer to amending a city zoning ordinance to allow destroyed nonconforming buildings to be entirely rebuilt to their original state.

The existing ordinance allows structures that are up to 50% destroyed to be restored to their prior legal nonconforming shape and size. But those destroyed beyond 50% must be rebuilt to conform to current development standards, said city planner Fred Buss.

City staff began considering modifications to the ordinance last year. And in February, some zoning requirements were temporarily suspended in the Station fire burn areas to allow property owners affected by the debris flows to rebuild.


City Council members said they would like to see the suspension become permanent for residential and commercial buildings, as long as restoration projects don’t create or perpetuate any safety issues.

“I think that you should be allowed to rebuild your home 100% to where it was, along with meeting the current safety codes,” Councilman Dave Spence said.

Mayor Don Voss suggested establishing a threshold that would trigger a safety review by city staff, and providing property owners with a recommended list of design changes that would move the structure closer to conformance.

“It just doesn’t feel right to me that the city would capitalize on a property owner’s disaster to impose code conformance,” Voss said. “I would rather have market forces take care of that, or perhaps city incentives.”

Council members also discussed reducing the window of time that is allowed to lapse between nonconforming land uses. Currently, a property can retain its nonconforming status for up to two years after operations cease.

Representatives from the La Cañada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce spoke strongly in favor of allowing 100% of destroyed structures to be rebuilt. Realtor Wes Seatrom said that under the current ordinance, property owners cannot rebuild without obtaining a variance from the city, which can be a lengthy and expensive process.

“[The existing] ordinance may be one of the least known by the residents of La Cañada Flintridge, yet when applied the most troubling and emotionally disturbing of any adopted by the city,” Seastrom said.

Allowing restoration benefits not only the individual property owner, but also the community as a whole, said chamber Chief Executive Pat Anderson.

“A disaster that affects our business community, especially retail, has a negative twofold result,” Anderson said, as such an event directly impacts the business and the property owners. But it also hurts the city’s tax revenue, Anderson said.

City staff was directed to incorporate the City Council’s recommendations into the ordinance, which will be discussed further during a future meeting.

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