After watching work that appears to be substantially altering the front landscape at 115 N. Rossmore Avenue, we contacted the Hancock Park Homeowners Association to inquire if the project had been approved by the neighborhood’s Historic Preservation Overlay Zone board. (The board reviews the historic appropriateness of alterations to the visible area of homes in the historic zone.)
Homeowners making alterations are required to get the approval of the HPOZ board, managed by the City’s Planning Department in concert with volunteers from the neighborhood, before proceeding with construction and landscaping in the visible area. However, some work, including awnings and shutters, grading and site development or landscaping in front yards (except landscaping in public rights-of-way and landscaping specifically called out in the Historic Resources Survey) do not require HPOZ approval.
All the work that has been done on the site, according to owner, landscape designer Jay Griffiths, is not subject to review by the HPOZ, as outlined above. Mr. Griffith told the Buzz that he went to the HPOZ to get approval for a 200-foot long, 42″ high fence, which he constructed…but then decided to bury with mounds of dirt because he didn’t like its appearance.
Griffith said the newly installed berm will be netted and planted it to keep the soil from eroding. He also said the berm helps his home fit into the neighborhood context, because all the other nearby houses are raised up and hedged. Mr. Griffith said he also wanted to create a more dramatic entry for the house, so he decided he needed stairs. He graded the site, adding about 36” of dirt in front of the wall and then he planted the row of hedges at the new height of 36 inches, so he could have a higher hedge. He said the City allows Rossmore and Highland Avenue residents to apply for a variance to have 6 foot tall walls in front of their houses because of the traffic (general rules allow a fence height of 42″).
We also asked Mr. Griffith about a new awning, and the wood structure it appears to be draped over, which is now attached to the front of the house. He explained that awnings and shutters were not subject to review of the HPOZ and that the awning is actually just a temporary solution to shade the house while he works through his design for the front of the property. He stressed that he is a professional designer with a long career, saying “this is what I do for a living and I’m pretty good at it,” adding that everything he did so far was outside the purview of the HPOZ. But he also said “I will get approvals when they are needed.”
The HPOZ board told the Buzz they did not review the project currently underway. Calls and emails to the Planning Department have not yet been be returned. However, the homeowners’ association learned that complaints filed in May with the LA Department of Building and Safety were reviewed and closed with a notation that no violations were found. After further inquiries were made, however, the association learned that senior officials at Building and Safety were further investigating the project. A senior official at LADBS confirmed this to the Buzz, but would not provide further comment.
The question we posted — “Has this project been reviewed and approved by the HPOZ?” — seems to have a more complicated answer, and for now, we don’t have it. We will continue our inquires because front landscaping questions seem to be an increasing topic of discussion in the neighborhood, and everyone would benefit from knowing the rules.