Letter: House exceeds height limit in Montara

Letter to the editor

By on Tue, May 29, 2007

Rob Carey

My wife and I just moved to Montara with our 10 year-old son, and we feel like we just entered paradise. Sure, it can get a little chilly when the fog comes in and settles for weeks or months, but we’re coming from a decade in Moss Beach so we know the drill. We’d had our eyes on Montara for a long time because the place just seems so charming. We fell in love with it one Halloween when we discovered the amazing community spirit around the witches’ house, with every home in the neighborhood catching the good vibes and doing their best to joyfully mark the occasion.

The witches’ house is just a few bocks away now and we’re very happy here. There is something a little closer, however, that is more troubling- even scary. I’m talking about a certain house being built at 1050 Acacia. There are obviously some serious issues with this development, and a knowledgeable neighbor by the name of Rob Carey has done amazing work to unearth the details of what has gone wrong with this project. As a licensed civil engineer, Rob is well qualified to read a design spec and see how the building fails to adhere to what was planned and approved. He is particularly motivated because his property is so located to be severely impacted by the developer’s apparent deviousness.

So what’s wrong with 1050 Acacia? Where to start. First off, one can see at a glance that it’s too high. I don’t have anything against the general appearance of the house (from my viewpoint) other than what seems like a clearly anomalous height, sitting upon a hill towering over the neighbors. But apparently the hill is not of natural origin. According to Rob there was a defective survey performed which indicated a much higher natural grade and consequently the house was built with the first floor significantly elevated above the original ground, requiring the developer to bring in truckloads of fill, hence the appearance of the house sitting on its own little hill. This isn’t just a subjective issue; there are zoning regulations limiting how high the house can be and this house unambiguously exceeds those regulations. Rob’s calculations show that the overall height is about 30 feet over the natural grade, though it was approved to be 27’ 1" and the legal limit is 28 feet. This might not seem so egregious to constitute a reason for major concern if not for the impact such a change has on the surrounding properties. Rob’s house, directly adjacent on Tamarind, now seems dwarfed by the structure, and his privacy is markedly reduced as the new neighbors’ backyard patio will be at the level of the top of his fence and will provide a clear view down into his bedroom.

Drainage patterns have also been grossly affected. The new artificial hill on which the property stands will result in flow to the west instead of the natural downhill pattern to the south and southwest, again directly onto Rob’s property. My understanding is that recent history has provided Montarans with plenty of cause for concern about which way the water flows when the rains pelt hard. Again, the issue is not that changes can’t occur but that they should be planned for and the plans must be approved. In this instance, the developer seems to be altering nature’s designs on his own personal whim at the expense of nearby residents and without any official approval.

Why am I so concerned for my new neighbor? The house doesn’t really affect me much, other than visually. It’s not entirely an altruistic concern. My property sits two lots north of 1050 Acacia and the lot between mine and the offending project is currently prepared for construction of a new house by the very same developer. I’ve looked at the plans, and not being a licensed civil engineer I don’t see any glaring problems. The point is that this is effectively meaningless if the final house that’s built is not built according to those plans. Having seen what Rob is going through with the 1050 Acacia development I now have little trust in the process that is designed to ensure that new structures are built in such a way that the flavor of the community is not seriously altered to the detriment of the current residents. It would seem crucial that the error is not repeated of working from an incorrect assessment of natural grade. The onus of proof should be on the developer as his credibility in this matter is clearly in doubt. Before proceeding with approval of his new design it should be mandatory that any imported fill be removed from the site and a competent survey performed by a third party.

Rob Carey has been diligent in his analysis of the situation at 1050 Acacia and has taken appropriate steps in contacting county authorities to notify them of his concerns. He has been persistent but polite and has written numerous letters to county supervisors and managers requesting action. From my perspective, it appears to be like spitting in the wind. According to county records, for instance, an order was given to the developer to hold off on pouring concrete surrounding the site but he proceeded to do so anyway. I wonder if his calculation is that the slap on the wrist he might eventually receive will be more than made up for by the additional profit he will receive by selling a home with a slightly better ocean view.

As a new resident of this wonderful community, I hope to spend the first of many years here enjoying the community and exploring the natural beauty of this very special place. I hope I don’t have to be weighed down in a legal battle with a voracious developer, working hard to rally support from my neighbors to join in the fight as Rob has done so effectively. Though I’d rather just sit back and enjoy life, I do feel it is important to stand up for uniform enforcement of the agreed upon standards of decent conduct for the way new properties are planned and developed. I hope my new community will stand with me in this effort.

This letter is not intended to prove the case against the developer in regard to the existing project at 1050 Acacia. Rob has done a fine job of that already and the evidence is admirably compiled at his informational page at http://1050Acacia.info/select. In addition to full details of the progress of this situation, there are links provided for contacting county authorities via email. What would be great is if readers who share Rob’s and my concerns for this and future similar situations, and you can be sure there will be more, contact our elected representatives and demand accountability

Joel McKinnon
1030 Acacia St.