The Laguna Beach City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday to overturn the Design Review Board’s approval of a controversial second-story home addition in the Three Arch Bay community, citing an increase in proposed lot coverage and preserving neighbors’ views as key unresolved issues.
Mike and Marcia Hoch have run into headwinds in their effort to add a 684-square-foot second floor to their home at 44 S. La Senda—which would include a master bedroom and deck—in a neighborhood that already hosts many two- and three-story homes. The addition would represent a 67% increase in the home’s square footage, according to a city staff report.
The Three Arch Bay Association and the Hochs’ next-door neighbor Kate Strasburg appealed the Design Review Board’s 4-1 vote to approve the project. Strasburg claims it would impact her ability to enjoy light, fresh air, privacy, and a sunset view.
Mike Hoch said he and Marcia feel they made progress and have the Council’s support to pursue a remodel their home by offering guidance to city staffers and design reviews board members can clarify and some architectural tweaks.
“The City staff and DRB board have always been fair and reasonable with us. We look forward to being back at DRB in the upcoming weeks,” Hoch said in a text message. “We look forward to starting construction as soon as possible and hopefully, our three kids will be able to get back to their Laguna Beach schools for the next school year.”
Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen said a stack of city reports, attorneys’ letters, and correspondence from the Three Arch Bay Association and neighbors made for the longest appeal packet he’s seen in his 10 years serving on the City Council.
“Looking at this project overall and the size of the second story with the pop-up [master bedroom] and the deck, I think the view preservation needs to be looked at again,” Whalen said.
In what is likely to first, Councilmembers Peter Blake and George Weiss both dissented, arguing the Design Review Board didn’t abuse its discretion in green-lighting the home addition.
“I don’t see that Design Review has at all made legal mistakes in these findings. Maybe someone can convince me, but I’m not yet,” Weiss said.
Blake offered a more forceful response to neighbors who packed the Council Chambers to oppose the Hochs’ project and the derailing effort as an “egregious abuse of power,” which earned groans from many audience members.
“I have dealt with this type of hypocritical oppression via Village Laguna in this community. It’s the exact same thing. It’s a vocal minority of people who have got what they got and now they don’t want anyone else to get theirs. You should be ashamed of yourselves, at best, for what you’ve done to this family and what you’ve forced us through. Our Design Review Board did an incredible job vetting this,” Blake said.
On Wednesday, Strasburg shared her gratitude for the council majority voting to protect the last home she plans to live in.
“I’m sorry for the Hochs. I wish they had picked a property that was more suitable for what they wanted to do but I’m very relieved and grateful for the time and attention of the City Council and all the city councilmembers who paid a visit to my home to see how it would be impacted,” Strasburg said.
When asked to respond to criticism it’s unfair that she enjoys a second-floor bedroom and her neighbor doesn’t, Strasburg pointed out the second story was added in 1980 when development in Three Arch Bay was managed by County, not the Three Arch Bay Architectural Review Board.
Under city law, Three Arch Bay Association is entitled to review and offer a letter of comment to city officials opining on home remodels within the gated community but, ultimately, the Laguna Beach Community Development Department retains the power to issue building permits, the Hochs’ attorney Larry Nokes said.
“The approval authority is the City and I think what has happened here over time is that that approval authority has been wrested by Three Arch Bay,” Nokes told councilmembers.
Three Arch Bay attorney Charles Krolikowski said this assertion was not correct.
“The City has the authority to approve and issue permits and that was not one of our issues last night,” Krolikowski said.
Since 1989, a Three Arch Bay Zone residential zone adopted by the City Council has held that the Community’s appearance needs to be preserved and enhanced. Additionally, all projects within this zone must use design criteria prescribed by city law. The Association has argued the Hochs’ current project fails to meet these standards.
“The DRB failed to properly assess the ‘view preservation’ standard and the underlying facts presented to the DRB did not support the findings necessary to allow the Project to block the views of others,” Krolikowski wrote in a letter to the City Council.
David Goldberg, a Three Arch Bay homeowner who has also butted heads with the Association over his own remodeling plans, claims there are many residents among the approximately 500 households of Three Arch Bay who support the Hochs but are afraid to speak up, fearing retaliation by their neighbors.
“One thing that’s also very interesting about this entire situation is you have a mob mentality of people who have a second story, some have a third story that go above 19 feet and they’re all board members. What it shows you about the architectural review board process in Three Arch Bay is that it’s arbitrary and it favors their friends,” Goldberg said.
After redrawing his design multiple times to alleviate neighbors’ concerns and after three and a half years of waiting, Hoch said he’s eager to build a house he and his wife can retire and leave their children one day. Sienna Hoch, 13, spoke at the podium with her younger sister Ella Annajolie to help convince the City Council.
“I can’t wait to get to know all of the new friends and neighbors that have helped us to get to this point. I’m so excited I’ve drawn a layout of my room several times already during these last three years and I think I finally decided where I want to put my bed,” she said.
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