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Santa Monica Planning Commission Rejects Request for Tall Hedge

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

October 9, 2015 -- A Santa Monica resident with a seven-foot hedge in his family’s front yard was unable to convince the Planning Commission on Wednesday that he had the right to keep it at that height despite City law limiting front-yard hedges to 42 inches.

The commission unanimously rejected the request by Carly and Adam Levine, who live on the 500 block of 17th Street in the North of Montana neighborhood.

Some hedges exceeding the height limit were grandfathered-in, but the deadline to qualify for that expired nearly eight years ago.

Exemptions are possible in specific situations, but the commissioners said they did not apply in this case.

Levine, who recently moved into the home, had removed a previously existing 15-foot hedge and replaced it with the current one without running it by City officials.

An unspecified person filed a complaint about the hedge. The City zoning administrator held a hearing and ruled the hedge must come down. Levine appealed that decision to the commission.

He told the commission his family needed the seven-foot hedge for privacy.

“We have two huge windows on the first floor,” Levine told the commission. “If you took our hedges away, you’d be able to see right into those."

He continued, "And not just by standing right by the property line, you’d probably be able to see right into our windows from across the street.”

Chester Rocha, a Los Angeles-based landscape architect who designed the hedge for the Levines, told the commission he was not familiar at the time with Santa Monica’s height limit, despite this being a well-publicized contentious issue for more than a decade.

Commissioner Nina Fresco questioned how that was possible.

“It never occurred to you to look and see if they had laws in a community like Santa Monica with a reputation for a lot of laws?” she asked.

Rocha responded that this was his first project in Santa Monica and when he drove in the area, he saw several homes with tall hedges. So, “it didn’t dawn on me that that might be an actual law in the city.”

How many homes with tall hedges are actually in the area was a matter of dispute between Levine and City officials. But there are only three exceeding the limit in the immediate vicinity, City officials said.

People wrote letters to the commission for and against Levine’s request, but only two came to speak. Sonya Fox Sultan and her husband Bruce live on the block and told the commission Levine’s hedge was not compatible with the neighborhood.

“It stands out like an eyesore among the neighboring properties on 17th Street, all of which comply with local ordinance,” Sonya Fox Sultan said.

She added, “The height of the hedge in question is injurious to the properties in the vicinity in that it blocks the flow of light and air and undermines the sense of safety and walkability so valued in our community.”

In responding to her complaints, Levine said he had never met her or her husband, which he said was unfortunate. Commissioner Jason Parry also said this was unfortunate.

“Part of the hedge ordinance's goal is to create stronger connections and sense of neighborhood,” he said.

Fresco also spoke in favor of the ordinance before casting her vote, saying it allowed neighbors to meet each other, and it was good for safety because people could see if there was a dangerous situation happening in the yard.

“The character of the neighborhood is a really important thing to protect,” Fresco said.

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