By Lynne Curry
In a unanimous vote, the Arcadia City Council backed irate homeowners and dealt a blow to builders in the city seeking to tear down existing houses and replace them with enormous mansions. At a public hearing in its moderately filled chamber, the City Council agreed with the Planning Commission’s decision to uphold the ruling of the Highlands Homeowners’ Association (HOA) and rejected the developer’s appeal. The Highlands HOA’s Architectural Review Board (ARB) had denied design plans for a new nearly 7,000 square-foot two-story single-family residence at 211 Monte Place, a cul-de-sac off of Canyon Road. ARB had turned down the builder’s plans on grounds that the proposed home was “incompatible in mass and scale to the surrounding buildings in the neighborhood.”
According to Highlands HOA statistics, the majority of the homes in the Highlands area are less than 5,000 square feet.
In front of a group of unhappy Highland homeowners and City Council members, Kurt Von Hatten, the project designer of KVH Design Group, argued that he and his staff had made significant adjustments to their plan to take into consideration resident concerns about the massive scale of the proposed home. Some of Mr. Von Hatten’s suggested modifications included increasing the home’s setback from the nearby hillside, moving the entire house further away from the curb than the existing house, placing the three-car garage as far back on the lot as possible, and putting the driveway on the side of the home.
However, City Council members didn’t buy Mr. Von Hatten’s arguments. They expressed concern that Mr. Von Hatten had not adequately consulted the neighbors about the house’s proposed square footage nor had the developer adhered to safety issues by proposing building within such close proximity of a hillside, given the possibility of the danger of mud slides.
“It bothered me that the developer did not want to meet the neighbors, appease the neighbors, or compromise, because the neighbors will still be there when the developer sells the house,” said Tom Beck, Council member. “It makes no sense to build so close to a hillside . . .”
Added John Wuo, Arcadia’s mayor, “I used to live on a hillside. Sometimes things happen you can’t anticipate. If this were 30,000 [square feet] and you build 7,000 square feet, that’s not unreasonable. But this is not flat-it’s a hillside. You need more of a setback.”
The first Highlands resident to speak at the hearing, April Verlato, an attorney and member of the Highlands HOA ARB, discussed Resolution 6770, a contract between the city and HOAs that grants HOAs design review authority. The scope includes the elements of size-mass, scale, height, length, and width. She raised the concept of size with the developer, but there is no maximum limit on square footage. Without knowing the actual square footage, which is used as a reference point, she said “we are unable to visualize how big in proportion to the other surrounding homes this one is going to be.”
Ms. Verlato also said that the HOA had offered to meet with the developer to discuss design reviews, but he had refused to do so, saying there could be no changes.
This issue has galvanized many other Highlands residents. “We got caught off-guard . . . but there is a movement within the Highland Oaks HOA and within neighborhoods by people who want to see more control of what is going on and what’s being put up in the neighborhood,” said David Arvizu, a Highlands HOA ARB member, urging people to come to the Highlands next annual HOA meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 17th, at Highland Oaks Elementary School to voice their opinions.