Council Takes First Step To Restrict "McMansion"

But Residents Still Aren't Happy

By Lynne Bronstein

Observer Reporter

The last City Council meeting of the year, on December 14, saw a compromise on the controversial issue of oversized homes (a.k.a. "McMansions") in Culver City.

The council by unanimous vote introduced an ordinance amending the municipal zoning code.

The ordinance amends some definitions of building standards for single-family homes, including the floor area ratio (FAR), defined as "ratio of floor area to total lot area." It also gives standards for lot width and depth, maximum number of dwelling units per parcel, street setbacks, height limits, and many more features.

The proposed ordinance did not satisfy many residents, especially the residents of Carlson Park who have been pushing for a moratorium on new single-family building in Culver City.

A dozen speakers chimed in with comments on what they felt was the inadequacy of the ordinance, as well as charges that the city staff, including the Planning Commission, was not competent to do a thorough study of the issue and that an "outside consultant" was needed.

A speaker who is not a Carlson Park resident, Venice activist Mark Lipman, stated that what some people have called "mansionization" is "a business model used by developers." He added that developers target low-income communities, taking advantage of "loopholes in the Ellis Act."

On a less militant but no less angered note, Sara Hartly said that the ordinance was "a Band-Aid" for "a very complex issue." And Stephen Erickson opined that the "feeding frenzy" of developers had to be abated.

Community Development Director Sol Blumenfeld had replies for some of these comments. Speakers had charged that Culver City was "not looking at surrounding communities" (some of which have passed moratoria) but Blumenfeld maintained that the city had indeed surveyed other communities during its study, including Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and Manhattan Beach. (The city has not to date studied a community that has passed a moratorium).

Blumenfeld also tried to assuage the angrier residents by assuring them that the idea of "outside assistance" has not been dismissed. However he insisted that the city's work has been professional and is still going to be the mainstay of the project.

Council members agreed with Blumenfeld as to staff's hard work (Andrew Weissman stated "I want to go on record as rejecting the suggestion that we were not well served by the Planning Commission.")

Meghan Sahli-Wells was the only council member to advocate a moratorium but admitted that if there was a lack of support, she would support the ordinance. However she did ask that there be a chance for residents to engage in real dialogue with the city and developers via a different kind of format for meetings, a workshop format as opposed to a council meeting or town hall format where speakers only get a few minutes to state their opinion.

Although Mayor Mehaul O' Leary thanked the residents of Carlson Park for "bringing this to our attention" it was probably no consolation to the people of the neighborhood who have been speaking out for months and will continue to push for what they believe to be a better solution.

The council also voted on other actions in a series of public hearings, among them a motion to amend the zoning map to allow the former Culver City ice rink property to be developed for commercial use.


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