Second Draft of BMO Revisions Gets Community Hearings

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CIty Planner Phyllis Nathanson talks to residents about the latest draft of proposed revisions to the city’s Baseline Mansionization Ordinance during the open house portion of last night’s meeting.

Last night, at the second of four community hearings on the city’s proposed revisions to the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance (and Baseline Hillside Ordinance), about 30 community members turned out to hear a presentation by city planners on the latest draft, and to voice their concerns.

The meeting, held at the Martin Luther King Recreation Center, near Western and Exposition, was divided into three parts – a presentation by senior planner Nick Maricich, an open house session in which audience members could talk one-on-one with several representatives of the City Planning Department, and then a public hearing during which members of the community were invited to provide their feedback on the current draft.

History of the BMO

In the introduction, Maricich reviewed how the original Baseline Mansionization Ordinance, which limits the total floor area of new construction to a percentage of the lot size, was enacted in 2008 to address neighborhood concerns about the construction of oversized replacement homes in single-family residential neighborhoods.

The original ordinance, however, contained a number of loopholes that seemed to encourage, rather than discourage, oversized construction. So in 2015, the City Council passed a motion calling for review and revision of the law.  A first draft of the revised Ordinance was released in October 2015, and after a public review period last fall, the Planning Department released the current second draft in April of this year.

What’s new

Overall, Maricich said the changes in the second draft of the BMO revisions are aimed at providing more flexibility for different neighborhoods (rather than taking a “one size fits all” approach), and at mitigating the problem of the “looming” effects of larger new homes, which cannot be solved by floor area calculations alone.  Toward that end, he said, the second draft not only changes some provisions addressed in the first draft (like whether or not square footage for attached garages is included in overall floor area calculations) , but includes three new provisions.

encroachmentOne of the new provisions requires a 45-degree “encroachment plane” (or surface angled away from the exterior of the building) on any walls more than 20 feet high at the building’s perimeter.  The second addition is a requirement that any wall more than 14 feet high and 45 feet long needs to include a 5 foot articulation for at least 10 feet along the wall.  And the third is a requirement that driveways can be only 25% of the lot width at the property line (to help maintain uniform curb cuts in neighborhoods), although they will be allowed to fan wider inside the property.

Audience reaction

As at other recent community meetings on the BMO and potential changes to it, audience members providing comments at last night’s meeting fell clearly into two very sharply divided categories: those who live in older, smaller homes and who want stronger building restrictions to preserve the charm, character and value of their neighborhoods…and those who work in real estate, planning and development, who say tighter controls will destroy their businesses, result in lost jobs and keep them from providing the kind of houses more modern lifestyles (and customers) demand.

Also last night, as at previous meetings, the passionate neighborhood residents greatly outnumbered the business representatives, with 15 people speaking in favor of tighter controls, and just four speaking in favor of rules more favorable to unfettered development.

In general, the residents speaking during the public comment section of last night’s meeting said the new provisions were a step in the right direction, but don’t go far enough to mitigate the effects of houses two or three times the size of their neighbors.

Attached garages

By far the biggest point of contention last night, though, was the issue of whether or not the square footage of attached garages should be included in a home’s overall floor area calculation.  While the first draft of the revised BMO required counting the square footage of attached garages in the overall floor area of homes (something anti-mansionization activists have adamantly supported), the second draft – like the original BMO – does not require garage footage to be counted in the overall floor area calculation.  All 15 neighborhood speakers at last night’s meeting were unanimous in their strenuous objections to this omission, saying attached garages make new homes appear larger on the front facade, so they should definitely be counted in square footage calculations. Several speakers also noted that attached garages tend to result in a lack of side driveways, which provide a buffer between a home and its lot line (and neighbors).  

Home values

Another disagreement between the resident speakers and development advocates last night was the value of larger homes vs. their older, smaller predecessors.  The residents (including large contingents from both the La Brea-Hancock and PicFair Village neighborhoods, which have both seen extensive proliferation of “McMansion” construction) insisted their properties are plenty valuable and actually increase in value when developers are prevented from tearing down older homes and building larger new ones. But the business representatives argued that their customers don’t want small homes, and that taking away the potential for large increases in square footage in new homes will hurt their businesses, result in a loss of jobs for people who work in the construction industry, and prevent home buyers from finding the features they want, such as bedrooms large enough for a king-sized bed.

Arguments against tighter restrictions

One speaker, Meir Kashani, argued in favor of a “prevailing calculation” instead of an absolute floor area calculation for new homes, so that blocks that already have a number of new, larger homes on them could be re-conformed to that new, larger standard.  “Let the guy with a small house build to match,” he said, noting that it would institutionalize and maintain the newer character, instead of the older one, in areas that have already experienced a significant amount of change.

Another building professional, who said he works in building permitting services, argued that newer homes are the ones that tend to use and promote the latest in green building technologies, so they should be allowed to retain the square footage bonus for “green building” techniques – something that was removed from the original BMO in both recent sets of proposed revisions.

Further opportunities for community input

If you would like to weigh in on the current proposed revisions to the BMO, the Department of City Planning will be accepting public input on the second draft of the BMO until June 10.  Comments on case #CPC-2014-3483-CA can be sent to neighborhoodconservation@lacity.org, or you can attend one of the two remaining community meetings:

Tuesday, May 10, 2016, 7 p.m.
Felicia Mahood Multipurpose Center
11338 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles

Monday, May 16, 2016, 7 p.m.
Marvin Braude Constituent Service Center
Conference Rooms 1a & 1b
6262 Van Nuys Blvd, Los Angeles

After June 10, the Planning Department will send the revisions, with a staff report, to the City Planning Commission, which is scheduled to hold a hearing on the latest draft in July.  After that, the proposed new ordinance will go to the City Council PLUM Committee, and then to the full City Council for further review before approval.

 

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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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