Brookside R1 Zone Debate Continues at GWNC Land Use Committee Meeting

GWNC Land Use Committee members considering proposals at last Tuesday’s meeting

While the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council’s Land Use Committee commonly considers anywhere from 5 to 10 land use and development-related issues at each of its monthly meetings, the discussions are often fairly evenly divided among each of the agenda items.  That was definitely not the case at the committee’s April 24 meeting, where nearly two of the meeting’s almost three hours were devoted to a single and highly passionate topic of discussion:  the selection of a new R1 single-family zone designation for the Brookside neighborhood.

Brookside R1 Zone Background

For the last few years, while the city crafted a new Baseline Mansionization Ordinance, Brookside, Sycamore Square and several other local neighborhoods were covered by a temporary Interim Control Ordinance to help control mansionization.  Now that the new BMO has gone into effect, and those ICOs are expiring, the city is offering the old ICO neighborhoods the choice of being covered by the new BMO, or selecting one of several new R1 “neighborhood conservation” zones, which are slightly more protective than the BMO, to help preserve the size and massing of neighborhood homes.  For the most part, the process has gone smoothly in neighborhoods such as La Brea-Hancock, Larchmont Village, and Citrus Square – where public meetings and neighborhood discussions led to choices later finalized by the City Planning Commission, the City Council PLUM Committee, and the full City Council.

But the R1 selection process for the last two ICO neighborhoods, Sycamore Square and Brookside, has been a bit more uneven.  After two community meetings, a public comment period, and public hearings before votes by the City Planning Commission and the City Council PLUM Committee, an R1-V3-RG zone (calling for a specific Floor Area Ratio calculation, variability in building massing patterns, and detached garages at the rear of the property) was supported for Sycamore Square by the Sycamore Square Neighborhood Association and the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. It was also approved by both the City Planning Commission and the City Council PLUM Committee.  And it will likely be finalized by the full City Council, which is scheduled to vote on the matter this Wednesday, May 2.

Shifts in Brookside Recommendations

For Brookside, however, the path has not been so simple.  At the first community meeting on the topic, held on November 14, 2017, the majority of neighbors present seemed to favor the same R1-V3-RG (variable massing) option eventually chosen by and for Sycamore Square.

At the second community meeting, however, a larger group of Brookside neighbors expressed strong support for an R1-R3-RG zone, which would require the bulk of a building’s mass to be located toward the rear of the structure (as opposed to the variable massing patterns that would be allowed under the R1-V3-RG option).

As is standard with such procedures, the city left the case open until January 10 for public comments via phone, mail and e-mail. And then, after the comment period closed, the Planning Department staff took all the input so far into consideration, and issued a recommendation report at the end of January.  But to many residents’ surprise, the staff report noted the divide in neighbors’ opinions and said that after staff members did a site visit and observed two distinct development patterns in the area – some streets developed mostly with smaller, single-family homes and some streets developed with larger two-story homes in more variable massing patterns – they recommended two different R1 zones for Brookside:  the R1-R3-RG (rear-massing) zone for the mostly smaller homes in the more southern and easterly section of the neighborhood (see dark gray areas on the map below), and the R1-V3-RG (variable massing) zone for the areas with larger homes in the more westerly and northern part of the neighborhood (light gray on map below).

Map showing Planning Department’s recommended R1 zone split for Brookside, with rear massing patterns designated for the east/south portion of the neighborhood and variable massing patterns in the west/north portion.

This recommendation took many neighbors by surprise, and as word of the split-zone proposal spread through the neighborhood, two distinct camps developed – those who felt the split-zone recommendation was a good compromise and does indeed honor the two different development patterns in the neighborhood…and those who felt the split zoning would unfairly divide the neighborhood, physically and psychologically.  And a great number of people in the second camp said they also felt it was unfair of the city to make such a decision without holding further community meetings to discuss the idea.

The Planning Commission did hold a public hearing on the topic at its meeting on February 8…and after hearing testimony both for and against the R3, V3 and split-zone proposals, voted at that meeting to approve the staff report and its split-zone plan.   The CPC forwarded its recommendations to the City Council Plum Committee, and at its meeting on April 17, more public testimony was heard on all sides of the issue, including a statement in support of the split-zone option read by City Council Member David Ryu’s Senior Planning Deputy, Emma Howard.  The PLUM Committee also approved the split-zone proposal, and forwarded it to the full City Council for final approval. That vote is now scheduled for this Wednesday, May 2.

Divisions Among Neighbors

Meanwhile, however, dissension among the neighbors seems to have grown.

In addition to much discussion on social media, the Brookside Homeowners’ Association, which had originally stayed neutral in the R3 (rear-massing) vs. V3 (variable massing) discussions, presented a letter to the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council at its April 11 board meeting, stating the BHA’s support for the V3 option, and asking for the GWNC’s support in that position.  The BHA board members present at the GWNC meeting argued that many neighbors had not been aware of the new zoning options, and felt they had not been adequately notified of opportunities to weigh in, especially after the Planning Department came up with the split-zone proposal after the original public meetings.

Because the issue had not been agendized at the GWNC meeting, however (it was presented during public comments), the GWNC board could not act on it, and referred the item to its Land Use Committee for more in-depth discussion.

And at the Land Use Committee meeting last Tuesday, the discussion blossomed.

Nearly 20 Brookside neighbors spoke out on the issue at the LUC meeting, with slightly more than half arguing strongly in favor of uniting the neighborhood under the V3 version of the zone, and others arguing strongly in favor of the split zone proposal. (There was also one person who objected to any zone option more stringent than the default Baseline Mansionization Ordinance.)

In general, the speakers at the meeting who favored a single R1-V3-RG zone for Brookside had several arguments:

  • That neighbors were given inadequate notice or opportunity to weigh in on the split-zone proposal, since it came so late in the Planning Department’s recommendation process
  • That neighbors were, in general, not well informed about the whole new-R1-zone discussion
  • That the neighborhood, which has had uniform R1 zoning on all of its streets since its creation nearly 100 years ago, should not now have its zoning divided (and, more specifically, that the areas with smaller homes, where the rear-massing pattern is now proposed, might come to be seen as “Brookside adjacent,” with lower values than the portion of the neighborhood with larger homes and the variable massing rules)
  • That many people who live in the smaller homes where the rear-massing pattern has been proposed would at some point like to be able to expand their square footage…and they fear that – under the new zone – they’d have to give up valuable back yard space to do so
  • That residents throughout the whole neighborhood should have more freedom to choose massing patterns if and when they do want to add on to their homes

At the same time, however, the speakers who favored the split R1-R3-RG/R1-V3-RG proposal argued:

  • That the rear-massing option is more in character with the blocks it is currently proposed for, so the split proposal makes sense
  • The rear-massing rule would do a better job, in that section of the neighborhood, of protecting the neighborhood’s overall character and cohesiveness, which is the area’s great value and which drew many residents to the neighborhood in the first place
  • That the city’s plan to provide different massing options for the two differently-developed parts of the neighborhood was indeed “well-considered” by the Planning Department (based both on public input and in-person, block-by-block surveys of the neighborhood)
  • That the split-zone plan does take different neighbors’ opinions into account and thus represents a fair and beneficial compromise
  • That neighbors were notified of each step in the planning process (both before and after the dual-zone option was presented), whether or not they chose, at specific steps, to pay attention or get involved with the discussions

Also, Jan Wieringa, who lives on 8th Street in the proposed R1-R3-RG area but could not make it to Tuesday’s meeting, sent a letter that was distributed at the session, reiterating several of the above points, along with the argument that “the developers are mainly interested in the smaller one story homes” in the neighborhood, and adopting the more restrictive rear-massing option in that area “will help protect the smaller homes to a greater degree than V3 [the variable massing opton] would.”  Wieringa said the split zone proposal “is a smart and reasonable zoning approach for Brookside, which is an older and very unique neighborhood currently surrounded by HPOZs.”

Several of the neighbors who favor the uniform variable-massing pattern for the whole neighborhood, however, said at the LUC meeting that they approached the office of City Council Member David Ryu when they learned of the split-zone recommendation, shortly before the PLUM committee vote in mid-April, and were told that Ryu would support that option if the GWNC also voted in favor of it.  They also said that Ryu’s office advised them to survey residents in the proposed rear-massing section of  the neighborhood (and only that portion of the community) to see which option those specific residents favor.

Resident Samantha Karim said that although the unified zone proponents had only two days before the PLUM vote to do that survey, they were able to gain signatures from 70 residents in 49 households (about 22% of the neighborhood’s total) in the proposed R1-R3-RG area, supporting the uniform variable massing option…and that many of those residents had not been aware of the whole discussion until they were contacted for the survey.

LUC Discussion, Vote…and Division

In the end, Land Use Committee member Karen Gilman moved that the committee recommend the GWNC board support the unified R1-V3-RG option for Brookside, and the motion was seconded by committee member Joe Hoffman.  During committee discussion, however, it became clear that the committee members were themselves divided on the issue, with some criticizing the “rushed” petition effort before the PLUM vote, others briefly debating whether or not the community notices at all points were sufficient, and whether residents may or may not have received poor advice or direction from the city council office.

Committee chair Caroline Moser also pointed out that the clear majority of the Brookside neighbors, by favoring either one of the R1 options over the basic protections of the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance, do seem to be united in their quest for some level of additional neighborhood preservation…and that when neighborhoods institute other kinds of preservation measures, such as Historic Preservation Overlay Zones, they often prioritize integrity of the streetscape and the experience of pedestrians over the desires of individual homeowners.

When the motion was called for a vote, four members were in favor of the motion, four opposed it, and there was one abstention…so the motion did not carry.

After a bit more discussion, committee member Karen Roberts moved that the committee recommend that the GWNC board support the Planning Department’s recommendation for the zoning split in Brookside, and the motion passed by a narrow margin, with four in favor, three opposed and two abstentions.  Moser said the recommendation would be forwarded to the GWNC board with language making it clear that the position did not represent a consensus among the committee members.

Other LUC Votes

In other business on Tuesday, the Land Use Committee recommended

  • That the GWNC board support an application to demolish a single family residence and construct a 4-unit Small Lot Subdivision project at 4827 W. Oakwood Ave.
  • That the GWNC board support an application for reduced front-yard setbacks in the construction of two new duplex buildings at 4817 W. Elmwood Ave.
  • And that the GWNC board oppose (because the applicants have not yet presented the details of their project to the Committee, as they were invited to do), an application for a permit to sell a full line of alcoholic beverages at a restuarant at 4653 W. Beverly Blvd.

The Committee also heard, during public comments, concerns of neighbors about the new Jane Club, which is set to open soon in on a single-family residential parcel at 236 S. Larchmont Blvd.  According to publicity for the venture, it will be a private club providing workspace, child care and various personal services to its members. But neighbors at Tuesday’s LUC meeting raised concerns about zoning compliance, traffic, parking, and setting a precedent for business operations in the residential zone.  Because the item had not been agendized for discussion at the Tuesday’s meeting, however, Moser said it would be agendized for further discussion, and the property and club owners invited to join in, at the next LUC meeting…which will be held on Tuesday, May 22.

[This story was updated after publication to add the note about a statement of support from City Council Member David Ryu’s office, and comments from Jan Wieringa and Caroline Moser.]

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About Elizabeth Fuller

Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - first in the Sycamore Square neighborhood, and since 2012 in West Adams Heights/Sugar Hill. She was long-time board member of the Sycamore Square Neighborhood Association, currently serves on the board of the West Adams Heights/Sugar Hill Neighborhood Association, spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and is the co-owner/publisher of the Buzz.

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