La Cañada couple will have to demolish unpermitted home upgrades

A local couple will have to demolish several costly building upgrades made to their Greenridge Drive home without permits from the city¿s Planning Commission, after losing an appeal before the La Cañada Flintridge City Council on Monday, March 3, 2014. (City of La Cañada Flintridge / March 7, 2014)

A local couple will have to demolish several costly building upgrades made to their Greenridge Drive home without permits from the city’s Planning Commission, after losing an appeal before the La Cañada Flintridge City Council Monday night.

The Planning Commission reported Shaker and Shatha Eissa increased the area of their house by more than 1,500 square feet, enclosing a patio and adding second-story footage that broached city rules about maintaining a roof line angle of 45 degrees or less.

They also built a 15-foot retaining wall, multiple decks, a sport court and several outdoor recreation areas in and along their backyard.

Planning officials said large parts of the project would never have been approved even if appropriate permits had been sought. They also said construction continued despite three “stop work” orders issued in 2008 and 2009.

A report presented by city assistant planner Harriet Harris said that over the course of the last two years, "staff worked with the applicant and his architect to determine what was done without permits and to complete drawings that reflected all the improvements that were done on the site.”

After three public hearings to sort things out, the Planning Commission determined on Nov. 12 the project could only be partially approved. The housing additions and the sport court, built partially on filled soil, were denied.

On Dec. 9, the Eissas appealed the denials, opting instead for a ruling from the City Council.

Members of the Eissa family were present at Monday’s meeting but did not speak, allowing attorney Kevin McDonnell, of the law firm Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell, to speak for them.

“(My client) is not a developer. He is not a builder — he’s inexperienced in these things, and clearly that inexperience led to things getting out of hand,” McDonnell said.

McDonnell said the house was originally zoned as “existing nonconforming,” meaning it had never met zoning parameters. He said neighbors approved the project and were against demolition, challenged the Planning Commission’s determination of the additional square footage and said the changes were not visible from the street.

Harris said the Eissas did submit requests for smaller projects, and permits were approved but never finalized. In 2010, the homeowners submitted a request for a hillside development permit to build a 3-foot retaining wall along the northern edge of their property. But in December, when the city visited the property to inspect the work, officials noticed the wall was 13 to 15 feet high, and illegal housing additions had been built.

Council members, who each visited the site, had harsh words for the homeowners.

“After eight years on the Planning Commission and 11 years on the City Council, this is the most egregious thumbing of the nose of the law I’ve ever seen,” said Mayor Laura Olhasso. “I would never have approved a 15-foot high backyard wall.”

Councilman Don Voss took umbrage at the square footage additions.

“It’s already existing nonconforming and we’re talking about adding more space — I just can’t see the logic,” Voss said. “Perhaps the time to pause on this would have been the three times in 2008 and 2010, when the stop work orders were issued, and yet it continued.”

After allowing some additional concessions, including a two-foot build out of the home that had initially been an eaves, the council unanimously denied the appeal, upholding most of the Planning Commission’s decision.

Before the ruling was made, city staff was directed to return with a resolution detailing concessions and providing a time line for complying with the mandates. City Manager Mark Alexander said documentation would be brought back at the council’s next regular meeting on March 17.

All approvals are subject to city and county Building and Safety standards, which if not met would mean even more demolition.

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