MMRA Supports LaBonge Motion to Reform Small Lot Subdivision Rules

MMRA Supports LaBonge Motion to
Reform Small Lot Subdivision Rules


Example of typical small lot subdivision

 

In 2005, a “Small Lot Subdivision” amendment to the Los Angeles Municipal Code was passed allowing developers to carve up lots in commercial and multifamily residential zones into small single-family plots. The previous minimum size for a single-family lot of 5,000 square feet was reduced to 600 square feet with a minimum width of 16 feet. The purpose of this law was to promote housing density by permitting “infill projects” in established communities.

These smaller lots are fee-simple parcels that can be bought and sold independently of each other. Unlike condo owners, residents of the small-lot homes own a plot of land and a home that is built on a separate foundation. These “townhouses” do not share walls, although they are built only inches apart. Typically, these small-lot homes range from 1,000 to 2,000 square feet and are accessed via a long driveway on the edge of the property with two-car tandem garages at grade level, bedrooms on the next floor, an open-plan living area above that, and a rooftop deck.

The spread of small-lot home development – from Silver Lake to North Hollywood to Venice – is generating “push back” from nearby residents. Neighbors have complained about the noise generated by rooftop decks and the lack of parking when small-lot homeowners place multiple sets of trash bins on the street. Unlike many condo or apartment projects, small-lot guidelines do not require private trash pick up. Another problem is that the inherent inconvenience of tandem garages encourages small-home residents to use street parking. Also, these projects lack proper setbacks and their tall and boxy designs are often incompatible with the scale and look of the rest of the neighborhood.


Recently, Councilmember Tom LaBonge proposed updating current guidelines and imposing stricter rules on Small Lot Subdivisions as a result of the many complaints generated by these projects. LaBonge’s reforms would include a 15-foot setback for small-lot developments; require private trash pickup to eliminate having as many as 20 individual trash barrels on the street; replace tandem parking garages with traditional two-car garages; mandate additional review of rooftop decks to reduce impact on adjoining neighbors; and require that the architectural character of the neighborhood be considered in the approval process.

“I strongly believe in tweaking the Small Lot Subdivision ordinance to ensure that new small lot subdivisions fit into the character of the existing community better,” said LaBonge.

Although no small-lot subdivision projects have been built in the Miracle Mile – given the number of multifamily zoned properties in our community, some adjoining single-family homes – it is only a matter of time before this sort of development arrives. On October 9, 2014, the board of directors of Miracle Mile Residential Association endorsed Councilmember LaBonge’s effort to reform the Small Lot Subdivision rules. These changes would mitigate the most egregious problems created by these projects.

“Frankly, I don’t think this sort of development belongs in the Miracle Mile,” said MMRA President Jim O’Sullivan, “but there’s nothing we can do to stop it. But Tom LaBonge’s reforms are a step in the right direction by reducing their impact on the neighborhood.”

For additional information:

LaBonge Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance Reform Motion

The Eastsider L.A.: Councilman Calls for Reviewing Small-Lot Development Rules

Larchmont Buzz: Developer Plans Small Lot Subdivision for 421 Van Ness Ave.

Los Angeles Times: In Urban L.A., Developers are Building Trendy Homes on Tiny Lots

Proposed Ban on Single Family Home Demolitions Includes Miracle Mile

 

Proposed Ban on Single Family Home
Demolitions Includes Miracle Mile

A tidal wave of complaints about mansionization – and the inability of the existing Baseline Mansionization Ordinance [BMO] to stop the spread of McMansions – has prompted the City Council to propose a stopgap measure to protect neighborhoods under attack. A plan presented October 7th at the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee would impose temporary restrictions to stop or limit demolitions in areas with pending applications for either a Reduced Floor Area District [RFA] or Historic Protection Overlay Zone [HPOZ].

The Miracle Mile Residential Association submitted a request to create a RFA to Councilmember Tom LaBonge on September 13th. LaBonge appeared at the City Council committee to place the Miracle Mile on the list of neighborhoods to be included in the proposed Interim Control Ordinance [ICO].

The ICO – which is still to be finalized before being brought to a vote of the full City Council – would prohibit all single-family home demolitions while allowing only interior remodels that retain all exterior walls and roofs orfeature a less restrictive option that could allow complete demolitions but limit new structures to 120% of the size of the previously legally existing structure. Either measure would effectively stop mansionization, but MMRA President James O’Sullivan and Vice President Ken Hixon informed the committee that the MMRA preferred the first option prohibiting single-family home demolitions entirely.

Nearby areas to be included on the list of protected neighborhoods are La Brea-Hancock and North Beverly Grove, which – like the Miracle Mile – are seeking RFA status, and Carthay Square, which has been waiting nearly four years for approval of its HPOZ. Staffing cuts to the Department of City Planning have created a logjam of pending RFAs and HPOZs. Developers have been exploiting this backlog to quickly build McMansions before protections are officially implemented.

An ICO is a temporary ordinance that is renewable in six-month increments for up to two years. It would stop mansionization in the most vulnerable areas and give the city time to reform the BMO and tighten zoning rules so that neighborhoods could have more say about the density and scale of new home construction and remodeling.

The ICO would protect the Miracle Mile while our RFA is developed and HPOZ protection is pursued. The proposed ICO clearly has the support of the entire City Council and it is anticipated that it will be approved and implemented by the end of the year.

For additional information:

Los Angeles Times: Tighter L.A. ‘Mansionization’ Rules Coming Too Slowly, Critics Say

MMRA Request for Reduced Floor Area District, Sept. 13, 2014

MMRA Newsletter, September 2014: MMRA Pursues “Reduced Floor Area District” for R-1 Zoned Properties in Miracle Mile”

Los Angeles Times [Editorial]: L.A. is Bogged Down in Trying to Save Its Historic Structures

Los Angeles Times [Steve Lopez]: L.A. Should Act Quickly to Close Loopholes in Mansionization Ordinance

MMRA Submits Comments on Academy Museum DEIR

MMRA Submits Comments
on Academy Museum DEIR

 

The Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA] has submitted its comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report [DEIR] for the proposed Academy Museum at the former May Company site. The nearly 7,000-page DEIR was released on August 28, 2014. The 45-day commentary period closed on October 14, 2014.

The DEIR highlights the scale of the Academy Museum project:

  • The creation of a “Sign District” allowing for the historic May Company building to serve as a background for super-graphics and digital signs.
  • Demolition of the 1946 northern addition of the May Company building to allow for the construction of the 1000-seat “Sphere” theater with a 10,000 square foot enclosed view deck. In total, the overall project will house three theaters with a combined seating capacity of 1,350 persons.
  • A ground level “Piazza” beneath the “Sphere” theatre providing access to the northern entrance to the Academy Museum. The “Piazza” would host outdoor events and screenings with up to 2,500 attendees.
  • Banquet and conference space with a capacity for 1,200 persons, including a “ Tearoom” rooftop terrace with a capacity of 800 persons that will also be utilized for outdoor film screenings.
  • A Museum Café with seating for 150 persons and a 5,000 square foot Museum Store.
  • A projection of 860,000 visitors per year with no new on-site parking.
  • Movies premieres, concerts, and other special events.

The DEIR is a very lengthy and complex legal and technical document that is difficult to concisely summarize. (For an in-depth view, follow the links below to see the MMRA’s comments to the DEIR and our independent traffic expert’s assessment.) The MMRA objections to the project center on traffic congestion, traffic and parking intrusions, infrastructure, public services, and the overall impact of locating a major special events center in a heavily congested and densely populated residential area.

Here’s the backstory.  In the mid-2000s the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences [AMPAS] began aggressively acquiring parcels in Hollywood as a future location for a museum. Working with the now defunct Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, which wielded its power of eminent domain, AMPAS secured a full city block south of Sunset Boulevard on Vine Street. Including other parcels, as well as their holdings at the adjacent Pickford Center of Motion Picture Study, AMPAS assembled approximately 8 acres.

Then, with the stock market crash in 2008 and ensuing recession, AMPAS’s fundraising campaign for the Hollywood museum site derailed. They were left holding a large parcel that was suddenly worth much less than they had paid.

Three years later the dream of an Academy museum was revived. In 2011 AMPAS signed a long-term lease to take over the former May Company from Museum Associates, which operates the Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA].

This preamble about AMPAS’s thwarted plan to locate a museum in Hollywood is relevant because it spotlights what is so obviously wrong with their plan to locate the Academy Museum in the Miracle Mile: They are trying to fit all of their grand plans for an 8-acre project in Hollywood into a mere 2.2 acres at the May Company site.  It is not an easy fit.

AMPAS has had to resort to slight-of-hand in the DEIR to create the illusion that an Academy Museum is compatible with the Miracle Mile – so that they can preserve their objective to be a major tourist attraction and special events center. But the only way they can do that is to minimize its true impact on the community.

A 2008 Traffic Study for the proposed Hollywood museum location projected 7,800 visitors per day. The DEIR for the May Company location projects only 5,000 – for a total of 860,000 visitors per year. Museum experts not connected to AMPAS predict that the project will easily draw at least 1 million visitors annually, if not match or exceed LACMA’s current annual attendance of 1.2 million visitors.

Why does AMPAS claim that the Miracle Mile location will attract 2,800 fewer visitors per day than the former location in Hollywood? Answer: To justify the lack of any new on-site parking. In Hollywood AMPAS was going to build a 5-story parking facility with 850 spaces; at the May Company site they propose none.

But even with this miraculous reduction in the number of visitors, AMPAS still needs to conjure hundreds of visitors arriving on foot, bicycle, or wandering over from LACMA, to cram down their numbers to meet city-mandated parking requirements.

The DEIR tortures visitor projections and parking discounts so that it will support its most important finding: That there is already adequate parking at LACMA’s underground Pritzker garage and Spaulding surface lot for the Academy Museum to share parking with LACMA.

This defies reality. The residents in areas adjacent to LACMA have endured the parking and traffic intrusions of LACMA visitors for decades. Everyone knows that LACMA doesn’t have enough parking. The “Full” sign is up almost every weekend at the Pritzker garage and Spaulding Lot. But according to the DEIR, LACMA has hundreds of existing parking spaces to spare.

In truth, the Academy Museum is as much a major special events center as it is a museum, with 87,000 square-feet devoted to theaters, events space, cafes, and a store and 84,000 square-feet for exhibitions areas, collections, and exhibit support.

As stated in the DEIR, the primary purpose and objective of the project is “…providing film screening and premieres in a state-of-the-art theater competitive with venues in size and amenities.”  Translation: The museum hopes to steal some of the audience, and wrestle some of the revenue, from such popular film premier venues as the Chinese Theater, the El Captain, and the Cinerama Dome. The list of additional events, besides film premieres, includes Academy member and public film screenings, traveling shows, concerts, performances, cultural programming, spoken word productions, classes, video and press events, and film festivals. Each of these will attract anywhere from 100 to 1,325 attendees.

These “special events” are intended to “Provide for revenue-generating events that support sustainable Museum operations….” Not surprisingly, AMPAS places no limit on the number of special events per year nor does the DEIR indicate the maximum number of special events that the project could potentially accommodate on an annual basis. That could top 300 per year – especially given their desire for revenue.

From the blare of rooftop movie screenings to the glare of digital signs that violate the Miracle Mile Community Design Overlay, to the onslaught of traffic and nightly events, the MMRA has concluded that the Academy Museum doesn’t fit the Miracle Mile. With all due respect, it should go back to where it came from: Hollywood. That’s where it was originally supposed to be. And that’s where tourists expect to find it.

For additional information:

Academy Museum Draft Environmental Impact Report

Miracle Mile Residential Association – Comments on the Academy Museum DEIR

Tom Brohard and Associates – MMRA Commissioned Traffic Focused Review of the Academy Museum DEIR

Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight – Comments on the Academy Museum DEIR

Carthay Circle Neighborhood Association – Comments on the Academy Museum DEIR

Los Angeles Times [Feb. 28, 2014]: Some Feel Cheated by Change in Film Academy’s Hollywood Museum Plans

“Nix Pix Museum” Says MMRA

A message from James O’Sullivan, MMRA President

The Academy Museum Draft Environmental Impact Report [DEIR] is the final chapter in a sad tale of incompetence and betrayal. Ultimately, it is a perfect example of the golden rule: He who has the gold makes the rules.

We got our first look at the Academy Museum project in May 2013. It was a 104-page study that raised a few eyebrows, but that’s not out of the ordinary for a very large project. Then, on August 28, 2014, an almost 7000-page DEIR was dropped into our lap and we realized we were in the middle of a four-alarm fire. Aside from the shock at the size of the DEIR, our worst fears were confirmed: The Academy Museum is a full-tilt special event center masquerading as a museum – Nokia/L.A. Live in the Miracle Mile.

We were never supposed to be in this position. If Museum Associates (dbaLos Angeles County Museum of Art) had done what they promised when they bought the former May Company property in 1994, the landmark building would have been completely restored and now would be the home of:

  • Up to 20,000 square feet of additional gallery space for LACMA’s collection of prints, drawings, and photographs, providing enhanced accessibility and use by students, scholars, and the public.
  • The Boone Children’s Gallery with workshops, a video and new-media center, and other programs for children, young people, and families.
  • Curatorial and administrative offices.
  • Public amenities including a new restaurant and retail space.
  • An underground garage with 1000 parking spaces to replace the 1200-space May Company parking structure that was demolished – and ended up being the Pritzker garage with only 517 parking spaces.

But instead of restoring and readapting the May Company, they built the Resnick Pavilion, BCAM, and ARCO Plaza – piling on debt by issuing construction bonds to the tune of $383 million. And then

…In August 2011, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded LACMA’s bond rating and Museum Associates found themselves dog-paddling in the deep end of a financial mess of their own making. They needed an infusion of cash to stay afloat. Four months later, in October 2011, Museum Associates abandoned their promise to renovate the May Company for LACMA’s purposes and announced they had leased it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences [AMPAS] for an Academy Museum.

It was a shotgun wedding. AMPAS had flown too close to the sun, too. They had gone on a spending spree acquiring property at the top of the market to build a museum in Hollywood. Then the real estate market collapsed. But they still had a tidy dowry so the terms of this arranged marriage were that AMPAS would pay Museum Associates $36 million up front for a 110-year lease. That’s right, the 300,000 square-foot May Company and the 2.2 acres it sits on for $896.64 per day. It was fire sale, but Museum Associates was desperate for a quick fix to balance their books. In their haste, they conveniently forgot old promises.

In 2005 the residents of the Miracle Mile agreed to give up Ogden Drive (a public street connecting Wilshire Boulevard to 6th St.) allowing the original LACMA campus to be unified with the May Company parcel. In exchange, the May Company would be restored and readapted for LACMA’s uses. We lost a street and a great shortcut to 6th, but it seemed like a win-win proposition: May Company rescued, new gallery space for LACMA.

But then, Museum Associates eloped with AMPAS and now what do we get? A third of the original May Company will be demolished to make way for a giant sphere that looks like it rolled here from Disney World in Orlando; a million visitors a year with no new on-site parking; gridlock; traffic and parking intrusions to our neighborhoods; a digital sign district; super graphics; searchlights; celebrity premieres on Fairfax Avenue; paparazzi; screaming fans; long lines of limos; midnight screenings; concerts; and numerous special events. And will most of these functions be open to the public? Not likely.

He who has the gold rules. And that is why the City will grant all the variances and approvals requested for this project. It’s a done deal. AMPAS has spent over $1 million lobbying City Hall according to the most recent public records. For that kind of money, the City will turn a blind eye to the disastrous impact the Academy Museum will have on the community. A pair of ruby slippers and a major special events center are being plunked down in one the most notoriously congested areas in town – while all the politicians gather to sing a rousing chorus of “We’d Like to Welcome You to Munchkin Land.”

Of course, the politicians don’t want to make Tom Hanks or Steven Spielberg mad. They want invitations to the groundbreaking. Talk about a photo op! But what will be missing from that picture is how Museum Associates betrayed the residents of the Miracle Mile and the surrounding communities when they climbed into bed with the Academy Museum.

[Ruby Slippers photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.]