Mansionization Threatens Miracle Mile
MMRA Board Creates an HPOZ Committee
And Considers Other Options
Mansionization is very much in the news these days [see links below]. The issue is especially relevant to the residents of South Ridgeley Drive where a circa-1920s home was sold and then quickly demolished to make way for construction of what appears to be a much larger residence that will overwhelm the existing houses.
In a recent front page article the Los Angeles Times reported that “…as the housing market rebounds and construction picks up, many homeowners complain that “mansionization” has revved up — reigniting long-standing policy battles and sometimes bitter fence fights over the face and feel of L.A.’s neighborhoods.”
The Baseline Mansionization Ordinance [BMO] passed in 2008 was aimed at stopping “super-sized” home construction in L.A. But developers have been able to easily exploit loopholes in the ordinance by manipulating bonuses for environmentally friendly construction techniques or excluding up to 400 square feet for a garage from the overall limits on floor space. These and other “tricks of the trade” have nullified the purpose of the ordinance: to preserve the character and protect the scale of well-established residential neighborhoods.
Last year the Beverly Grove community, which has been a battleground over McMansions, succeeded in creating a “Restricted Floor Area District” [RFA] to plug the loopholes in the BMO. An RFA limits the maximum base floor area ratio and related bonuses for new construction and remodeling of existing homes.
Since the passage of the BMO in 2008, 58 out of 690 single-family homes in the Beverly Grove area have either been demolished or remodeled in a manner that was out of scale and character with the neighborhood [photo right]. Fifth District Councilman Paul Kortez, in a letter supporting the RFA, wrote: “A large bulky home towering over an adjacent modest historic home can result in a loss of sunlight and privacy as well as a reduction in appeal and property values.”
The Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA] believes that the simplest and fastest remedy to this problem is for the city council to eliminate the obvious loopholes in the existing Baseline Mansionization Ordinance. But well-heeled real estate investors and developers have a vested interest in thwarting or delaying such action. So far, they seem to have the upper hand and communities like the Miracle Mile are left without a ready defense against mansionization.
This is why the MMRA is evaluating the only other options available: the creation of either a RFA or a Historic Protection Overlay District [HPOZ]. Both of these options have their advantages and disadvantages and neither would offer a quick solution to this problem.
At the May 2, 2014 MMRA board of directors meeting a motion was unanimously approved to create a committee to explore HPOZ protection for the Miracle Mile. The committee was instructed to do fact-finding, seek the input of residents and property owners, and report on how a HPOZ might be designed and implemented.
The MMRA board was briefed by Michelle Levy, head of the HPOZ unit at the Los Angeles Department of Planning, on what is involved with creating an HPOZ and what protections it provides to a community. The city has 30 HPOZ zones with an additional 16 neighborhoods at different points in the process of seeking HPOZ status.
Unfortunately, because of staffing cutbacks to the Planning Department, approval of new HPOZs are in limbo. Just this week the Los Angeles Timeseditorialized that because of mansionization the city council “needs to fund these positions or run the risk that some of those aspiring historic districts won’t have enough historic properties left to qualify.”
Levy explained that the first step in becoming a historic district is to establish the boundaries of the proposed area. An HPOZ adds historic development standards strictly dealing with design to the existing zoning regulations, whether it be a single family, multiple family, or commercial zone. These standards require that any alteration to the façade of a historic property would be subject to review for conformance with the adopted preservation plan. The preservation plan is developed by the community to establish the guidelines for how properties within its boundaries can be altered and/or developed. The overall goal of an HPOZ is to preserve historic buildings and prevent mansionization and other new development that is incompatible with the surrounding properties.
Levy stressed that outreach to property owners is critical to establish whether or not there is consensus to create an HPOZ. Widespread support will be needed as the community usually funds the expense of having a block-by-block historic field survey performed to identify “contributing” and “non-contributing” structures, which determines whether a particular building is subject to the full weight of the preservation plan or not. The historic survey is a very important component and informs the foundation of the historic district. The City is looking for 60 to 75 percent “contributing” structures [intact historical properties] within the HPOZ.
By its very nature the creation and implementation of an HPOZ is an exacting and complicated process. We encourage residents to review the links below to educate themselves on the subject.
Obviously, mansionization is a controversial matter – as is creating either an RFA or HPOZ to combat it. The MMRA is a consensus-based organization. We are committed to effective outreach whether it be via this newsletter, our website, door-to-door canvassing, or informal surveys [see below]. We welcome your input and participation in the discussion regarding the pros and cons of implementing a RFA or HPOZ in the Miracle Mile. You can contact the Executive Committee or HPOZ Committee at:
Photo credits: Top, Adrian Scott Fine, courtesy of the Los Angeles Conservancy; middle: Aaron Blevins, courtesy of the Park La Brea News/Beverly Press; bottom: courtesy of Office of Historic Resources, City of Los Angeles.
News media links:
Los Angeles Times: Return of ‘mansionization’ has some L.A. homeowners grumbling
Los Angeles Times: L.A. is bogged down in trying to save its historic structures
Los Angeles Times: What McMansions say about Americans
Baseline Mansionization Ordinance links:
Los Angeles Department of City Planning: Baseline Mansionization Ordinance Summary
CityWatchLA.com: L.A. Mansionization: the More You Stir It, the More It Stinks
Reduced Floor Area District links:
CityWatchLA.com: Koretz Gets Formal Request to End North Beverly Grove Mansionization
Historical Protection Overlay Zone links:
Los Angeles Department of City Planning: HPOZ Brochure and Historic Rehabilitation Guide
PreserveLA.com: FAQ: Los Angeles HPOZs