Parkland.01

Like so many of his neighbors, Palos Verdes Estates resident John Harbison is upset that the city allowed the transfer of a 1.7-acre parcel of public parkland to private owners. Robert and Delores Lugliani now want to rezone the parkland from open space to residential. (photo by Chuck Bennett/Staff Photographer)

PVE — Robert and Delores Lugliani’s controversial application to rezone their privately owned parkland was denied. But the issue isn’t dead yet.

The Palos Verdes Estates City Council heard testimony Tuesday night regarding the couple’s application requesting a zone change from open space to residential on what was once city-owned parkland. The 1.7-acre parkland, which wraps around their property on Via Panorama, is now under their ownership because of a deal struck last year among the city, the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District and the Palos Verdes Homes Association. The couple now wants to rezone the parcel so they can add accessory structures (sports court, gazebo, barbecue), fencing around the property to prohibit public access from the once public park, and legally permit an illegally built series of retaining walls than are higher than the city allows.

City Attorney Christi Hogin said the rezoning was part of the negotiation, but neighbors, who feel cheated by the deal, are not happy.

“No rezoning. No buildings. No fences. No walls. ... We all know what open space means and its not any of those things,” said resident John Harbison.

The complex deal among the four parties involved a land swap — two empty lots owned by the school district for the parkland adjacent to the Luglianis’ Via Panorama property — in exchange for a $1.5 million donation to the school district from the Luglianis. The land swap was done indirectly, orchestrated by the city and homes association.

The deal ended a two-year lawsuit between the school district and the homes association over decades-old deed restrictions on the two undeveloped district-owned lots, known as C and D. The homes association put the restrictions on the lots when it transferred the properties to the district in 1939.

The deal also forgave the Luglianis for their years of encroaching on the city’s parkland.

The city’s fear and the driving force behind their involvement in the four-party agreement was that if the school district won its case in the Appeals Court, it would have eliminated the deed restrictions on all the district-owned properties in PVE.

“All of the school district’s property could be sold off and developed as single-family homes,” Council member John Rea said. That includes the Little League fields and school sites, he added.

The city was asked to enter into the agreement, resolving the lawsuit and enforcing deed restrictions throughout the city, and resolving the issue of the Luglianis’ illegal encroachments.

While the city lost a small plot of public land, which Hogin said was appraised at $450,000, it gained two lots, appraised at $500,000, that will remain open space for perpetuity.

“When this came to us ... we thought we were doing the right thing,” said Mayor George Bird. “We saw the benefit to all.”

Residents complain that the deal, which should have never been entered into in the first place, especially without their knowledge, only rewarded the couple’s bad behavior and sets a bad precedent.

“One of the winners is the homeowner who repeatedly, illegally encroached,” said resident Richard Fay.

Hogin said when the city entered the negotiations, it was understood that the property owners wanted to rezone portions of the property to add accessory structures and legally permit the retaining walls that serve to stabilize the hillside.

“The goal is to legalize what is already up there,” Hogin said. Rezoning is one option.

She later added that the mechanisms as to how the walls and structures are permitted shouldn’t matter. “The focus should be on whether the retaining walls are going to be permitted. How they get permitted doesn’t make any difference.”

Residents disagree with Hogin. Residents, including Fay, said that if a zone change from open space to residential was part of the deal, residential zoning should have been discussed in the agreement, which it wasn’t. “Maybe it was left out in order to keep the city in the dark,” Fay said.

Council agreed with the residents that there was no talk of rezoning the property during discussions.

“They could own the dirt but couldn’t do anything with the dirt,” Bird said.

Sidney Croft, the attorney representing the homes association in the school district lawsuit, said that the association was opposed to rezoning the entire property. The agreement was meant to preserve open space in the city.

“The deed from us says that only a very limited portion can be used ... that we want the vast majority of the field to be open space,” he said. “I believe that’s what you’re considering now. Certainly no fences or anything like that.”

Residents may never see the deal in a fair light.

Like the Luglianis, resident Jill Wheeler encroached on public parkland.

“I got spanked because I was encroaching,” she said.

Her encroachment cost her a lot of money, and she reminded the council and city staff that during this time, the city wrote her letter informing her that the city does not issue permits for private structures on public land, and that the city has “an obligation to maintain public parkland for public use.”

The fact that the Luglianis consistently and illegally developed city-owned property for personal use and was rewarded rather then reprimanded irks residents.

“You need to reverse and start the whole thing over,” Wheeler told the council.

 

The matter will be before the council again at a still-to-be-determined date to discuss other options for permitting the retaining walls and accessory structures. Residents can sign up for the city’s listserv to be notified of council meetings and agenda items. Go to www.pvestates.org.

mscott@pvnews.com

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