The Jack in the Box on Pacific Coast Highway would be leveled to make way for the Doheny Hotel. Photo by Andrea Papagianis
The Jack in the Box on Pacific Coast Highway would be leveled to make way for the Doheny Hotel. Photo by Andrea Papagianis

Craig Sink, Dana Point

Is it naïve for me to believe the Dana Point Planning Commission will follow the zoning code and faithfully execute their duty?

A comprehensive plan was developed and adopted by the city in 1993 to ensure the orderly development of Dana Point. It was decided that no building would be taller than 35 feet. The Planning Commission, appointed by the City Council, has been judicious in enforcing this rule and applicants have been denied height variances when no hardship exists.

Developer Michael Draz of Beverly Hills Hospitality Group wants to build a hotel in Dana Point on the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Dana Point Harbor Drive.

The city’s General Plan allows for hotels in that zoning district, but Mr. Draz does not want to build a two- or three-story hotel. He doesn’t want a 35-foot hotel. He wants a 70-foot hotel. He wants a hotel that will dwarf the landmark pedestrian-bridge that people see as they enter Dana Point on PCH from the south.

He applied to the Planning Commission for a height variance claiming hardship. The Planning Commission, acting as a quasi-judicial body to remedy unnecessary hardships inflicted upon property owners by the unintentional consequences of the zoning process, is considering the case.

California law requires the showing of unnecessary hardship before granting a variance.

“Most states generally require that a property owner prove the existence of an unnecessary hardship in order to secure the variance relief sought,” writes Leslie Keller, a noted author and expert in zoning.

Mr. Draz purchased and assembled three properties: the Dana Point Harbor Inn, a Jack in the Box and a closed liquor store, fully aware of the zoning, and now claims a hardship. His hardship is self-inflicted. He is seeking a variance because adhering to the zoning code is less financially rewarding than not adhering to it. It is a matter of convenience and special privilege, not hardship.

The Dana Point Municipal Code requires specific findings be met before the Planning Commission can grant a variance. Among those is “that there are exceptional or extraordinary circumstances or conditions applicable to the subject property which do not apply generally to other properties in the same zoning district.”

Another is “that the variance request is made on the basis of a hardship condition and not as a matter of convenience.” Yet another is “that the variance will not constitute a grant of special privilege inconsistent with the limitations on the other properties in the same zoning district with similar constraints.”

None of these findings applies to Mr. Draz’s variance request. It must be denied.

Looming changes for our City Council make campaign contributions desirable for those council members seeking higher office or re-election. Understandably, council members tend to be sympathetic to the needs of their contributors. However, Mr. Draz would be mistaken if he believes he can influence the decision of the Planning Commissioners by contributing to the council members who appoint them.

Our council members will not apply pressure to our commissioners to grant a variance, nor will our Planning Commissioners grant variances without specific findings being met. They will faithfully execute their duty for the orderly development of Dana Point.

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