On Tuesday, December 19, the Los Angeles Department of City Planning invited residents of the Brookside and Sycamore Square neighborhoods to comment on two new single-family residential “neighborhood conservation” zones that are being offered for single-family lots in their neighborhoods. Both areas have been protected under an Interim Control Ordinance while the city worked on its new Baseline Mansionization Ordinance for the last couple of years.
The new BMO, which limits the size and lot coverage for new construction across the city, was finalized earlier this year, but a total of 17 neighborhoods that had additional protections through an ICO are now being offered the choice – as the ICOs expire – of being covered by the new BMO, or to adopt one of several new R1 zones that would seek to “conserve” neighborhood character with additional rules for the size, scale and massing of new construction. The goal is to help preserve the general size and scale of buildings in those neighborhoods, without restricting more personal style choices (which can only be addressed through historic preservation designations such as an Historic Preservation Overlay Zone).
Three other local neighborhoods – La Brea-Hancock, Citrus Square, and Larchmont Village – have already been through this process and have chosen new R1 options for their areas, over the more permissive BMO. La Brea-Hancock and Larchmont Village residents selected the new R1-R3-RG zone for their single-family properties, which requires that the bulk of a home’s mass – along with detached garages – be located toward the rear of the property, to match the patterns established by existing homes. Citrus Square selected the new R1-V3-RG zone for its single-family properties, which allows a more variable massing pattern (the majority of a building’s bulk can be either at the front or rear of a home, or spread out across it, depending on builder preferences); also with detached garages at the rear of the property.
At Tuesday’s hearing, residents from both Sycamore Square and Brookside spoke up both for and against the R1 zones in general, and the pros and cons of what seem to be the two most appropriate potential R1 zone choices – R1-R3-RG (rear-bulk pattern) and R1-V3-RG (variable bulk pattern).
At a previous informational meeting on the new R1 choices, several Sycamore Square residents, all of whom live on Citrus Ave., said that they would prefer to remain with the citywide BMO rules rather than adopt either of the new R1 choices. At this week’s meeting, two more residents (a husband and wife who reside at the same address on Citrus) agreed with that position. They argued that either of the new R1 zones could limit the pool of people who might want to buy their home in the future, since current buyers seem to favor larger, newer homes, or smaller homes they can add onto or tear down to replace with larger homes. They also said that requiring garages at the rear of the back yard limits back yard space for family activities, which could also deter future buyers. Finally, they argued that while a rear-bulk pattern may work best with Spanish-style homes, other styles – such as the English cottage style of their own home – might not lend themselves as well to a rear-bulk massing pattern.
Three other residents at this meeting, however, all of whom live on Orange Drive, where a larger percentage of older homes is still intact, said they strongly favor the R1-R3-RG zone for their blocks, to help protect the street’s historic character – which is what originally drew them to buy houses in the neighborhood.
Ira Dankberg, an architect who lives on Orange Drive, argued strongly in favor of the R1-R3-RG zone, saying that the diversity of established neighborhood patterns – both high and low density – is what gives Los Angeles its “richness,” and should be preserved. He also argued that the rear garage pattern is especially important in this area, because it’s almost impossible to effectively integrate a huge garage door on the facade of an historically-compatible home.
Lane Maser, who lives on Citrus, also joined the Orange Dr. residents in speaking up for the R1-R3-RG zone, noting that a new “McMansion” was built next to her house last year, and now encroaches on her driveway clearance, casts shadows on her house for most of the day, and has eliminated privacy in both her front and back yards. She said that if the new R1-R3-RG rules had been in effect when that new home was built, living in her home “wouldn’t be as painful” for her as it is now, and the “conservation” provided by a new R1 zone “will operate as a preventative” against this happening to other original homeowners on her block.
One other speaker, who recently purchased a home on Citrus Ave., but has not yet moved in, did not express a strong preference at this point for either R1 option, but said she was worried about whether requiring bulk at a building’s rear (as in the R1-R3-RG option), might limit backyard privacy for smaller homes adjacent to newer, larger ones. She also said she is concerned about the ability to preserve local architectural styles, which the R1 choices do not address.
With a line pretty clearly drawn between Citrus and Orange homeowners, one resident asked if the two streets could ultimately choose different options – the R1-R3-RG zone for Orange, and the R1-V3-RG for Citrus…but the Planning Department staff at the meeting did not provide an answer.
Finally, Conrad Starr, president of the Sycamore Square Neighborhood Association, noted that his group has not yet taken an official position on the zoning choice, but will consider it at its January 7 meeting, where residents are invited to continue the discussion.
While Brookside residents at the November informational meeting on the new R1 choices (see link above) seemed to be moving toward favoring the R1-V3-RG zone (variable massing patterns), the comments of Brooksiders at Tuesday’s public hearing were heavily in favor of the R1-R3-RG zone (requiring the bulk of a building’s mass toward the rear of the property).
In all, eight residents from Brookside spoke up at this meeting in favor of the R1-R3-RG zone choice, while just one spoke in favor of the R1-V3-RG zone…and two spoke up strongly in favor of no R1 zone at all, and choosing instead to be governed by the citywide BMO.
Among those favoring the R1-R3-RG option, 8th Street resident Taylor Louden argued that the variable massing pattern of an R1-V3-RG zone would not protect adjacent residents’ back yard privacy in any way (as others had suggested), since homes could still be built with rear massing…or with a more even bulk across the building’s entire depth, which could create privacy issues at the front, sides and rear of the property.
Louden’s wife, Jan Wieringa, made a similar case, showing a picture of one original Brookside home (at 927 S. Tremaine Ave.) where a 1,500-square-foot addition has been added to the rear of a property (as the R1-R3-RG zone would require). In the photo, the facade and front roof line of the house appear to be nearly original, and the addition is almost invisible from the street. Wieringa then showed another photo of a newer, larger home in the neighborhood, built with more box-style bulk across the full depth of the building, similar to what could be built under the R1-V3-RG zone (though without a slanted “encroachment plane” to step back the top portion of the home, as the V3 zone would require), which contrasted sharply with the pattern of older homes nearby.
The two Brookside residents who spoke in favor of no special R1 zones both argued against the idea of any sort of additional regulation for neighborhood building. Brent Gold, who lives on Kenniston Ave., called the city’s attempts to regulate home building “predation” and “absolutely bizarre,” saying that the neighborhoods were originally built by developers in the 1920s, so there’s no reason to glorify their products over those of modern developers. Gold also said homeowners just “want to be left alone” to do what they want with their own properties.
City officials will be accepting further comments on the new R1 zone choices until January 10. Comments can be sent to Planning Department staff at NeighborhoodConservation@lacity.org, with copies to City Council District 4 Senior Planning Deputy Julia Duncan – firstname.lastname@example.org
After the public comment period closes, the Planning Department will prepare a report and recommendation on the matter, which will be sent to the City Planning Commission for further review and its recommendation before the item goes to the City Council for a final decision.