City Council Backs Kipling Dr. Remodel, Sparks Debate Over Lack of a View Ordinance

In denying an appeal against a project in the Enchanted Knolls neighborhood, sparking a conversation about the need for a view ordinance in Mill Valley.

The Mill Valley City Council denied an appeal against plans to remodel a home at 111 Kipling Drive last week, allowing an 1,157-square-foot addition to move forward despite concerns from the immediate uphill neighbor and nearly 20 residents of the Enchanted Knolls neighborhood.

The project proposed by Chris and Jill Lebsock includes a 293-square-foot addition to the main level of their house and a new, 864-square-foot upper level that includes three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Garrett and Danielle O’Doherty, who live immediately above the home at 105 Kipling Drive, appealed the project on the basis that it’s not consistent with the city’s General Plan, municipal code and residential design guidelines. In their appeal, the Lebsock's wrote it “only benefits the applicant, at the expense of another neighbor.”

The project underwent a study session and three public hearings, and the Planning Commission approved it at its Dec. 20 meeting. The Commission had concerns about the bulk of the second story, and made a number of suggestions that included shifting bedrooms, bathrooms and the deck to different sides and stories of the property to reduce the size – along with suggestions to eliminate a large stair tower.

In their written response to the appeal, the Lebsocks said they complied with suggested design changes from the Planning Commission, that “the architect designed the second story towards the back of the existing structure in order to minimize the view impairment experienced by the O'Doherty's,” and explained their need for a larger home.

“We have two children attending Edna Maguire Elementary School. We've lived in this house since 2003 and like many young couples, we bought the house with hopes of expanding it to accommodate our growing family.”

Prior to the council's hearing of the appeal, Planning Commission Chairman David Rand highlighted the Kipling project as an example of "significant lapses in communication" and "different visions" between the commission and the city's planning department. His criticism came as a surprise to the City Council, which plans to investigate his statements.  

“In the study session (for the Kipling project), four of five commissioners requested a reduction in the square footage of the second story,” Rand said. “Yet when the project came back for design review on the next two occasions the square footage of the second story remained exactly as it was, unchanged. And on each occasion, staff recommended approval.”

During the City Council appeal hearing, a number of residents voiced their opinions on the project.

“I’m looking at this bulk of mass for the rest of my life,” said Kipling Drive resident Lindsey Orth. “And I’m thinking of the O’Doherty’s. This structure, just outside of their window, is robbing them of their light, their blue skies, and I just don’t think that’s right.”

Others on the street called it “too massive and completely out of character for our neighborhood,” said it “sets a bad precedent for the neighborhood,” and asked that it go back to the Planning Commission for further review.

Ross Spoon, a resident of Dorset Lane in the Alto neighborhood, said he was supportive of the project. 

“I’m confused,” he said. “I’ve watched this process. I’ve watched the Lebsock's comply with all the planning ordinances. If feels like your uphill neighbor gets to design your house. For me, if we have a view ordinance we should admit it.”

Should Mill Valley Have a View Ordinace?

“What we’re dealing with is the subjectivity of the design review of a 50- to 60-year-old neighborhood that’s changing,” said Councilmember Ken Wachtel, who voted to deny the appeal and support the project. “The expectation for a house is that it is larger than it was in 1950. We have no view ordinance. But that’s really what we’re dealing with. The only real impact on uphill neighbors is that they see it.” 

City Council Mayor Andy Berman echoed the sentiment, saying “We’re sitting here tonight with no view ordinance, so what goes on on that property gets a little bit more protection.”

Stephanie Moulton-Peters also denied the appeal saying “ultimately the planning commission got to the right place and met design guidelines,” and Councilmember Garry Lion gave his support for the project as well. 

Vice Mayor Shawn Marshall was the only member to vote in favor of the appeal. 

“Just because something is allowed doesn’t make it right,” she said. “Maybe we’re missing things in our guidelines. We don’t have a view ordinance in this town, and maybe we should. We shied away from it, and I’m going to call on my colleages to address it.”

Do you think Mill Valley should have a view ordinance? Voice your opinion in the comments section. 

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Jack January 30, 2013 at 03:07 PM
Hey, they're young, they're rich, they're popping out kids... We need to accommodate them. Real life stories like this do much to promote the loss of neighborliness of this little town.
Janis Bosenko January 30, 2013 at 03:54 PM
A view ordinance is needed as is a light ordinance. A huge remodel is going in next to my one level house. It will loom over my house and seriously shade the solar panels on my roof. Big deal they have two children, that doesn't justify essentially adding the equivalent of another house to the existing house. Remodels are out of control and are destroying the character of neighborhoods.
Rebecca Chapman January 30, 2013 at 05:55 PM
this is so sad. if you watch the meeting where almost the entire neighborhood came forth, pleading with the planning commission to not let this atrocity go through (can't remember the date; sorry!), you'd see how little voice the individual residents, especially the older, more reasonable ones, of this uber village really have. i was recently in spokane, washington (obviously a much bigger city with an entirely different geography), & the zoning ordinances were apparent everwhere. here, some little houses with sweet front & back yards down by the water, there some larger family homes with pretty windows and large tree-lines streets up on a shadier hillside, & way up on the sunniest, more gently rolling slopes, low-lying houses of a medium size that looked just right for the town's elders. but, you wanna know what the really striking thing was? people smiled, laughed, waved, & actually got along. my jaw almost hit the pavement over & over, from how beautifully that city's people treated me, i'm not kidding...


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