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Beverly Hills News – Residents Galvanize Over Megamansion Development On Loma Linda

Posted Thursday, August 6 – 6:35 PM

By Victoria Talbot

A project by Canada’s Aquilini Development and Construction, Inc. at 1184 Loma Linda Dr. is coming back to the Planning Commission Thursday and many residents are not happy.

 The proposed project, by Vancouver Canucks hockey team owner Francesco Aquilini, is a coming-out party, launching the next phase of his career in the United States. A Craigslist ad for a site supervisor reads, “Be part of the ground floor team launching a steady stream of U.S.-based high-end home projects, backed by the resources of Aquilini Development and Construction, Inc., one of Canada’s premier developers . . . You’ll play an important role as we build super high-end luxury homes in Bel-Air, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and other locations.” 

But for the neighbors, these plans literally hover over their futures.

The project first drew attention at a meeting Dec. 11 of last year, when Aquilini proposed a 25,532-square foot residence including 12,443 of “basement” cantilevered over the hillside with moat-like water features protruding above the homes and Goldwater Canyon Park and pre-school below.

Grading included the export of 8,081 cubic yards of soil, encompassing 22-round trips daily for 30 months with two bars, underground parking for ten cars, and an indoor basketball court and bowling alley.

The 22’-wide Loma Linda Drive with hairpin curves and steep hills is reminiscent of the conditions on Loma Vista Drive where construction vehicles killed two LAPD officers. At the end, the street exits in a sharp turn onto Coldwater Canyon.

In a hearing last December, the Planning Commission told Aquilini that the project needed major changes. Four of the five commissioners, Chair Howard Fisher the exception, rejected granting permit approvals.

In fact, Aquilini was advised to meet with a subcommittee, including two commissioners, to create a transparent dialogue with neighbors and to improve the project proposal.

Aquilini was directed to substantially reduce the size and impacts of the project and City Staff was directed to clean up the MND, which was full of errors and omissions.

In addition, major traffic impacts were simply omitted, including concrete and rebar delivery and worker vans and the failure to identify a preschool.

However, at their meeting in January, PC Chair Howard Fisher, who at first recommended the subcommittee, offered the developer the option of bringing a revised proposal back to the Planning Commission for a public hearing – instead of meeting with a subcommittee and neighbors.

And despite having had more than eight months to prepare the Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND), the project was dropped on stakeholders with only days for review. Neighbors received the MND Monday afternoon; the final set of plans arrived at 11:30 Monday evening.

Especially given the history of developer’s submissions, neighbors knew they had to look very closely for mistakes and omissions. Despite residents request for time, the late submission allowed little time for analysis and response.

In the revised documents, the difference in cumulative square feet was achieved by the removal of three of the ten underground parking spaces and the indoor basketball court.

The current project proposal still calls for 21,415 square feet and 5,374 cubic yards of grading with up to 18 round trips per day for 25 months.

But the City’s project guidelines still only allow for 15,000 cumulative square feet and hauling 3,000 cubic yards of dirt. To move forward, the Planning Commission must grant R-1 permit approvals for the exemptions.

“In order to approve a Hillside R-1 Permit for a single family home, the Commission must make the specific findings that ‘the development will not have a substantial adverse impact on the scale, integrity, or character of the area or on the privacy of the neighboring properties.’ The Commission cannot make these findings, because the proposed development is nearly four times the average size of other homes on Loma Linda, the design clashes with the quaint street of historic homes, and the project’s massive decks look directly into the private backyards of nearby residents,” said Attorney Sheri L. Bonstelle, Partner at JMBM.

But perhaps the most audacious request is for a street vacation. The developer is asking the Planning Commission to recommend to the City Council their support to take the end of the cul-de-sac, which is highly unusual and controversial, removing that portion of the street from the public purview and giving it to the developer.

In exchange, the developer says that he will build an improved fire department turnaround.

That is hardly a replacement for the cul-de-sac where people safely recreate and enjoy the views, including residents from Coldwater Canyon and the surrounding areas, as well as Loma Linda.

“For the city to grant a private developer exclusive possession of the public right-of-way to the detriment of residents and in opposition to residents – would be breathtaking,” said Murphy.

In ten years there have only been three such vacations; and only once for residential development.

The Aquilini project has galvanized the opposition. Yard signs dot the neighborhood, proclaiming “Save Our Neighborhood; Stop Aquilini.” Over 85% of neighborhood residents have signed a petition opposing the project.

 Overdevelopment, it seems, has reached a tipping point in Beverly Hills.

 “This project would destroy the neighborhood’s intimate character; invade the privacy of neighbors and Coldwater Canyon Park below the project; generate enormous traffic dangers and congestion on Loma Linda and Coldwater; and subject the neighborhood to excessive noise and dirt,” said Murphy.

For those who thought this could not happen here, think again. Pitting residents against real estate developers, tension has crossed the invisible line 

Such galvanization has begun to take shape across the hillsides of Los Angeles. In Bel Air, neighbors have formed the Bel-Air Alliance to fight Los Angeles City Hall and developers. Celebrity resident Jennifer Aniston has joined the fray.

The megamansion development has coalesced the neighborhood as developers like Aquilini and Mohamed Hadid begin bulldozing through canyons where generations of residents have sought refuge.

Neighbors expressing opposition, some with lawyers including Ben Reznik, are expected to be at the hearing on Thursday, August 13 at 1:30 p.m. 

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