At the annual meeting of the Miracle Mile Residential Association on Saturday, November 5, one of the major topics slated for discussion was the current status of the neighborhood’s proposed Historic Preservation Overlay Zone…and, more specifically, the draft of a Preservation Plan that would govern building projects in the HPOZ, if adopted.
A first draft of the Preservation Plan was completed by a working group of neighbors this summer, and was most recently reviewed by the City Planning Commission on October 13. But a vote by that body was tabled after testimony from a group of neighbors opposed to many of the Plan’s proposed rules, which they felt were too numerous, restrictive, vague and possibly contradictory. Specific areas of concern included landscaping, paint colors, how home additions and second stories (especially in rear, non-street-visible areas) would be handled…and even the sheer number of rules, which was greater than in many other HPOZs.
Since the CPC hearing, neighborhood debate on the HPOZ has been heating up on local social media, so it was no surprise that neighbors opposed to the HPOZ turned out again, in force and armed with bright red “No HPOZ” signs, at the November 5 MMRA meeting. The degree to which they showed up, however, was a bit unexpected.
“We have never seen anything like this,” said MMRA President James O’Sullivan after the meeting. “A couple of times it did get really, really raucous.”
After about an hour of heated discussion at the Nov. 5 meeting, City Council Member David Ryu – buffeted by strong opinions on both sides of the issue – offered to broker another, smaller meeting a few days later between representatives of the pro and anti-HPOZ groups.
That meeting took place on Monday, November 7. According to O’Sullivan, about 11 neighborhood representatives and several members of Ryu’s staff spent more than four hours discussing 13 specific concerns relating to the proposed Preservation Plan, along with possible revisions and clarifications. At the end of the meeting, the Plan was returned to staff from the city’s Office of Historic Resources for revisions based on the discussion.
O’Sullivan said Ryu’s working session was both cordial and productive, resulting in some useful clarifications of the Plan’s specific provisions. “I thought it was a good meeting,” he said. “We want to clarify as much as possible, so anyone picking it up fresh will be able to understand it all,” which he acknowledged probably wasn’t the case with at least some parts of the plan’s first draft. O’Sullivan also expressed optimism that the resulting new draft of the Plan will be able to successfully address many of the protesters’ stated concerns.
Jay Schoenfeldt and Henry van Moyland, who have been leaders of the “SayNoHPOZ” group, agreed that the meeting with Ryu’s staff was cordial, but they took a more wait-and-see position afterward. Schoenfeldt said some key issues were discussed at the meeting, but others – such as questions of where the HPOZ boundaries should and would be drawn – are still up in the air. (The MMRA has proposed HPOZ boundaries extending north to Wilshire Blvd., but at least some multi-family property owners would like to exclude the blocks north of 8th Street. Also, some areas proposed for inclusion, said Schoenfeldt and van Moyland, were not originally part of the area covered by the MMRA, so residents in those areas missed out on initial neighborhood discussions of the HPOZ and haven’t had a full voice in the adoption process.)
Finally, Schoenfeldt said that despite the intensive Preservation Plan negotiations, he still thinks the neighbors’ major concern is mansionization, not historic preservation, and that size, scale and massing of homes can be better regulated through less restrictive, non-HPOZ tools, such as the new, customizable R1 single-family zones now being rolled out in several other local neighborhoods. (The R1 zones, however, would not cover Miracle Mile’s many multi-family properties – R1 rules are, by definition, for single-family properties only – and they also would not address issues of architectural style and character…which many neighbors have spoken passionately about at previous neighborhood meetings.)
O’Sullivan said he hopes the revised Preservation Plan draft will be made available by the city at least a week before the next Planning Commission hearing on December 8, so the MMRA has a chance to publicize it and make the revisions clear to all residents before that hearing. In the meantime, the MMRA yesterday published its own account of the recent discussions, which includes this list of the specific revisions negotiated at last week’s meeting:
- No regulation of paint colors. Property owners are free to paint their homes and buildings as they wish without review.
- Reiterate that the exteriors of all properties in their present condition are “grandfathered” once HPOZ is adopted. No changes of existing elements (windows, roofing, etc.) are required even if or when the property owner seeks approval to remodel a particular part of the exterior (HPOZ does not regulate interior remodeling).
- No regulation or review of landscaping as long as at least 60 percent of the front yard is planted with some sort of greenery. Drought tolerant planting is permitted.
- Allow second story additions as long as they are adequately set back from the front façade. Property owners will be free to expand their properties as long as they are sensitive to massing and scale so as not to have an adverse impact on their neighbors.
- Permit solar panels on the front of the structure if that is the only place they can most efficiently operate. Ditto satellite television dishes. Also, do not regulate the placement of mechanical equipment, such as air conditioner units or electrical boxes. Most property owners display common sense in these matters, so there is no need to micromanage this.
- Allow for modern designs and contemporary architecture on infill projects in vacant lots or as replacement structures for properties lost to fire or natural disasters as long as they are properly scaled to be sensitive to the existing historic homes in the immediate area. Both sides expressed a strong distain for “faux” period architecture.
- Backyard additions and/or remodeling will be unregulated (other than by existing city building codes) as long as this work is not visible from the street. This work will be reviewed only to determine that it, indeed, qualifies for this exemption.
- Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) or “granny flats” are already permitted by law and cannot be prohibited in an HPOZ. As long as they cannot be seen from the street they will be exempt from the design guidelines.
- HPOZ guidelines will only apply to those portions of a structure that are visible from the street. Both sides agreed that “sight visibility” should be defined as what is actually seen from the street and not what could be seen in the theoretical absence of fences, landscaping, driveway slope, and so on.
- Clarify that in the event of a natural disaster any historic properties destroyed do not have to be rebuilt as replicas and can be replaced with structures of a modern or contemporary design.
- Remove confusing and restrictive language from the Preservation Plan. This point was pressed by the architects on both sides: Lisa Landworth, Scott Kelsey, and Henry van Moyland. The group as a whole deferred to the architects’ practical experience and reached consensus that the guidelines should be as simple and practical as possible.