By Tim Posada, 8/18/2011
Koretz Proposes Limiting New Home Sizes to 3,000 Square Feet
Emotions were high Tuesday night in a meeting held by the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association (BWHA) at the Original Farmers Market. The topic: mansionization. Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, 5th District, met with Beverly Grove residents, both for and against mansionization, to discuss his proposed ordinance to limit houses to 3,000 square feet.
Recently, Koretz’s office conducted a survey of more than 300 participants in Beverly Grove to determine if residents wanted stronger housing regulations or no further action. Just over 60 percent voted in favor of more restrictions. As a compromise, Koretz proposed a new ordinance for a part of the Beverly Grove area, from Colgate Avenue to Fairfax Avenue and Lindenhurst Avenue to San Vicente Boulevard, that will limit future developments to 3,000 square feet and require them to create a one-foot side yard between houses. Koretz noted that 20 percent of attendees wanted to go as low as 2,400 square feet, while about 70 percent approved of the 3,000 square foot restriction.
“As we expected, people who wanted things to stay the same argued that the survey wasn’t accurate, but we believe the majority of the people voting in the survey knew what they were doing,” Koretz said. “We came up with a compromise proposal that allows for add-ons. They’re looking at doing something similar in Studio City, but they’re shooting for 2,400 square feet. We’re being much more reasonable.”
If approved, the ordinance could be active anywhere from six months to a year.
Mansionization describes the process by which houses are demolished and rebuilt, substituting architectural continuity with a modern, and usually much larger, development project. Sometimes homes replace back and front yards (up to 20 feet from the sidewalk) with house additions, and tower above neighboring one-story homes. But local resident and licensed architect, Stanley Brent, prefers the term “maximization,” to avoid the negative stigma of real estate development.
“Maximization has been a cornerstone of this country’s economic growth,” said Brent in a letter to Koretz. “Across our great country from border to border the ability to buy, develop and sell property and have the security of zoning and planning codes to establish, maintain and develop our properties, has allowed the economic growth which we have enjoyed for centuries.”
Six months ago, the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance was implemented citywide to restrict the height and length of homes built in varying neighborhoods, but for Dick Platkin, a city planning adviser and boardmember of the BWHA, it’s not enough.
“It just stopped the oversized projects created by major realtors that were 6,000 feet, but the 4,000 feet ones were still around,” Platkin said. “The citywide ordinance has had no effect on stopping this process, so the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association took on an effort to stop McMansions.”
According to Platkin, the Beverly Grove area has become an “epicenter” for mansionization, with realtors buying up smaller lots, demolishing them and building “McMansions,” as he refers to them, seeing houses change from 1,500 square feet to 4,500 square feet. The BWHA website features a link to images of “McMansions” in the area.
“The community’s about two-thirds in favor, based on two surveys, but there is a boisterous small community who incorrectly assumes the city can’t tell them what to do,” Platkin said. “The purpose of zoning is to harmonize a community. We have no problem with people changing their house –– we’ve seen some beautiful remodels and buildings too. We just don’t want it to be oversized and out of character with the neighborhood.”
Platkin named two remodeling projects on Lindenhurst and La Jolla Avenue that he believes effectively transitioned from 2,000 square feet to 3,000 square feet without intruding on neighbors’ privacy.
For Koretz, the architectural tone is the most important determining factor.
“If you bought the property with the intention to build a huge monster home, then you’ll be reeled in a little bit,” Koretz said. “It’s the sentiment of the neighborhood.”
Los Angeles City Councilmember Tom LaBonge, 4th District, agrees with Koretz, and referred to continued issues with development in the Hollywood Hills. He stressed the need for appropriate development.
“It needs to fit the contours of the neighborhood,” LaBonge said. “I don’t want the Pillsbury Doughboy at the end of my street. It must fit in through great architecture. I want the housing of fifty years ago to fit with that of today.”
Regardless of complaints, mansions are top sellers, according to local realtor and Beverly Grove resident, Rosalie Klein Flaster.
“If I had two or three, I’d sell them immediately,” Flaster said, wondering what would happen if further mansionization restrictions were introduced. “What will happen – what people and Koretz don’t understand – is that in outlawing them, buyers will go to different neighborhoods.”
Flaster points out that many of these homes are riddled with poor electrical wiring and dated washing machine connections, along with other problems that add up in 80-year-old houses.
“The houses that are actually torn down are beyond repair,” Flaster said. “They are not cost effective to save. What comes in is much nicer and well maintained. Yes, it’s not always the right architecture, but the neighborhood is prospering.”
Flaster also pointed out that she isn’t always in favor of such developments, but she’s uneasy about restricting anyone’s right to choose how to develop. She hypothetically pondered the community tone after the first two-story houses were developed –– something potentially controversial some time ago, but unimportant now. Brent echoed a similar sentiment.
“We have longtime residents in the neighborhood who bought with the intention of remodeling or building and now, for some obscure reason, they can’t,” Brent said. “I’ve seen these developments, they’re gorgeous and they up the value of neighborhoods.”
Oren and Victoria Benmoshe live in one such mansion in Beverly Grove with their four children, and they can’t understand why another ordinance would be introduced so soon after the last one.
“They complain – I have arguments with neighbors, but I don’t pay attention,” said Oren Benmoshe, who is also a developer. “They brought people in from ABC News, I believe, and filmed our house. Even before I broke ground they went up to me and told me I’m ruining the neighborhood.”
Victoria Benmoshe added that the original square footage, approximately 1,400, would have worked for a smaller family 80 years ago, but not her family of six.
Garage use is also a sour subject. For Platkin, building a separate garage is a cheat — a way for McMansions to add an extra 400 square feet to the house that won’t be considered living space. Residents can then convert that space into a recreational room or storage area and park on the street. Oren Benmoshe has heard similar arguments, but found them ironic since one neighbor who criticizes mansionization converted her garage into a cabana.
Koretz presented the proposed ordinance to city council on Wednesday, and it has been sent to Planning and Land Use Management Committee. For information, visit www.cd5.lacity.org.