Latest Mansionization News: Suggestions Are Rejected


December 3, 2015

Ron Peterson

By Lynne Bronstein

Observer Reporter

The issue of "mansionization," a term not preferred by some of the activists speaking out against the trend, has been in local news for months, as many cities are studying the problem and in some cases passing moratoriums on building new structures of unregulated size.

Culver City has heard from anti-mansionization activists several times and there have been several local meetings and study sessions on the topic.

November 16 saw a joint study session of the City Council and Planning Commission dealing with mansionization and possible changes to the zoning code. The message to the two boards from those who spoke at the meeting was much the same as has been heard at other meetings: residents are discontented with not only the current zoning but also with the proposed changes, which they feel do not go far enough to prevent the building of oversized single-family homes.

After a short series of study sessions over the summer, during which they received public testimony, the Planning Commission discussed 25 possible changes to the zoning code and recommended 10 of those for text amendments. The proposed changes are intended to address issues of building massing, privacy, design, height, construction, permitting and public notification. The regulations proposed to be changed relate to front, side, rear and second story setbacks, building coverage, Floor Area Ratio (FAR), and corner lots.

The Commission also decided that these changes were wide-ranging and could cause negative consequences if applied to other than R-1 residential properties, and despite having heard much public comment asking for an outside consultant and a moratorium, they said no to both suggestions.

In the city's staff report, a number of regulations have been suggested. Among these are: massing: require use of Floor Area Ratio (FAR) to regulate relationship of building size to lot size for single family residential development, limit FAR to .6 including attached garages; require 20' front yard setback and 5' step back on the 2nd floor or full 25' front setback for both stories with no step back; privacy: require 5' building side yard setbacks; require 5' perimeter setback for roof decks and eliminate balconies on side yards; massing and privacy-incentivize 10' side yard for driveways located along a side yard leading to a garage at the rear of a lot by deducting the garage area from allowable FAR.

Planning Commissioner Edward Agosta presented a slide show with renderings of homes as per current standards versus renderings of structures that would be allowed as per the suggested restrictions.

But most of the residents who spoke in public comment were unimpressed with the city's and the commission's work.

People displayed photos and diagrams of their homes and the neighboring new offensive buildings that overshadowed their homes. The council and commission were shown depictions of second story windows that looked down upon, or directly into, adjacent homes, towering balconies and roof decks that encroached upon neighbors' privacy and blocked sunlight, and aesthetic clashes between framed cottages and ultra-modern residences.

One speaker showed a brief and moving video of a couple, long-term residents of Culver City, who described their small house as "a refuge."

"We're like the fish in a goldfish bowl" and "We have to keep the blinds closed" were comments this couple made about the encroachment of the neighboring large home.

Many speakers reiterated the desire for a moratorium, no matter how temporary, on residential building, as well as the need for an "outside" person or board to study the issue.

Planning Commission chair Kevin Lachoff said he'd been hearing "similar concerns" at the previous study sessions and noted that there is a recurring theme about lack of privacy.

Community Development director Sol Blumenfeld said the problems were not unique to Culver City and were "not difficult to address." He assured the council and audience that the city has been and will be studying the impact of unregulated building of homes in neighboring cities.

After pondering the comments and suggestions the council directed staff to draft an ordinance with firmer regulations against overbuilding single-family homes in Culver City. The proposed ordinance was called "a baseline."

Further changes will be examined by the Planning Commission.


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