County’s beach area planning guidelines in limbo
Article Launched: 02/14/2008 3:00:00 AM EST

Design guidelines for houses in some coastal areas of the county could be heading back to the drawing board.

A Superior Court judge ruling last month invalidated a set of guidelines passed by the Board of Supervisors last year that were aimed at helping new homes to mesh with the beach bungalows and other structures in Pleasure Point, Rio del Mar and other unincorporated areas in coastal stretches of the county.

Judge Robert Atack issued a verbal order in January, saying the guidelines should have gone through a hearing process before the Planning Commission before being approved by the Board of Supervisors, per county ordinance. “They sidestepped something without going through that process,” said Architect Cove Britton, who sued the county, contending what were labeled guidelines were in effect rules that were inappropriately approved.

Instead, the guidelines were enacted by supervisors at the recommendation of planning department staff, according to court documents.

While the lawsuit dealt with procedure, both sides agree the bigger issue is ocean-area homes being compatible with existing neighborhoods.

The guidelines stemmed from complaints by some residents of those neighborhoods that newer houses being built were dwarfing older homes, blocking sunlight and at times allowing windows that peek into the backyards of the established houses.

At the same time, critics said that the guidelines overstepped basic property rights and clouded the approval process.

The guidelines, or rules, thrown out by the court applied to homes that would be 7,000 square feet or larger. However, Planning Director Tom Burns said the guidelines in question are just that — information intended to clarify code for homeowners and designers. He added the plaintiffs were successful at confusing the judge about what the guidelines really were.

“We devised guidelines for staff and others to understand what neighborhood compatibility meant,” Burns said.

For now, the public, designers and homeowners won’t have those guidelines to go by.

He said the planning department may go back and re-adopt them by going through the planning commission and the board of supervisors. Or, the county may appeal Atack’s ruling.

“We haven’t made a decision yet,” Burns said. The county has 60 days after Atack issues a written ruling to decide whether to appeal.
Contact Brian Seals at 706-3264 or