Neighborhood Politics: Miracle Mile HPOZ Hits Roadblock, Opposition Mobilizes

PARK LABREA NEWS REPORT--As the Miracle Mile Residential Association (MMRA) approached the finish line in a years-long effort to establish stricter protections from the invasion of McMansions, a different group of residents mobilized to try to hit the brakes.

Box-shaped homes like the one on the left dwarf existing structures in the Miracle Mile. Residents in the neighborhood agree that McMansion development needs to stop, but they don’t agree on the right tool to get it done.

The Los Angeles Planning Commission on Dec. 8 will consider the proposed historic preservation overlay zone (HPOZ) that will protect the Miracle Mile from developers who want to replace existing residences that were built between 1921-1953 with larger, box-shaped homes. “Mansionization” – the influx of the larger homes – started years ago, and the MMRA said it will destroy the character of their neighborhood if it continues. In September, the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission (CHC) concluded that the Miracle Mile neighborhood maintains its cultural significance to the city of Los Angeles. But other property owners have joined together to oppose the restrictions that come with an HPOZ.

“I first heard about the ‘No on HPOZ’ people literally five minutes before it was going to be decided on,” said Councilman David Ryu, 4th District, at an MMRA meeting earlier this month where dozens of residents waved red “No on HPOZ” signs.

“Even though you came in the last minute, I wanted to make sure [you were] heard.”

Opponents to the HPOZ argued that the preservation plan – which includes guidelines and review procedures for 1,350 properties – is too strict, and will stall the neighborhood’s growth and ability to attract new families. At the meeting, attendees waving red signs said they were worried that the proposed HPOZ will require residents to get approval from the HPOZ board or the city’s planning department to change any exterior component of their homes, and that it can be costly and time-consuming to obtain the permits.

The “No on HPOZ” group said they are in favor of stopping “McMansions,” but suggested the Miracle Mile instead rely on the city’s baseline mansionization ordinance (BMO), which they hope will be adopted in January. Jay Schoenfeldt, one of the leaders of “No on HPOZ” group, said they are against the preservation plan in its current form and asked Ryu to consider other options “aside from taking away property owner rights that can prevent mansionization.”

Ryu explained that the HPOZ measure was not created or intended to be “used as a tool to prevent mansionization,” and it has become an unintended cure for the phenomenon. But the process for the BMO is often delayed, and preservationists worry it could be too “watered down” to prevent mansionization by the time it is adopted. Further, the existing interim control ordinance that protects the Miracle Mile now expires in March.

Jim O’Sullivan, president of the MMRA, said the conflict arose from misinformation and misconceptions about the proposed HPOZ. Ryu blamed misconceptions on the language in the proposed preservation plan, and said the city’s planning department “really created a mess.”

“I have to admit, the planning department really screwed up with the report,” Ryu said. “They should have done a much better job because a lot of the things they told us, they didn’t really turn out that way. So we’re fixing it.”

Ryu’s office met with MMRA leaders and the “No on HPOZ” group after the annual meeting to clarify language that the MMRA agreed was “somewhat obtuse.” The MMRA explained that the intent of the HPOZ was to devise a plan that was unrestrictive and flexible.

“Both sides agreed that the language in the preservation plan, as written, was too ambiguous and could be interpreted to be more restrictive than desired,” the MMRA reported in its newsletter. “This resulted in a collegial and successful discussion of how to simplify and revise language in the plan to accurately reflect the will of the community.”

In addition, the groups clarified specific details. For example, the preservation plan will not regulate paint color. The exteriors of all properties in their present condition will be “grandfathered” once the HPOZ is adopted, and there will be no regulations on any property’s interior, or any planned additions that cannot be seen from the street. There also will not be landscaping regulations “as long as at least 60 percent of the front yard is planted with some sort of greenery.” Second story additions will also be allowed with certain setbacks.

On Wednesday, O’Sullivan said they were waiting for final clarification from the planning department. He said he is hopeful but cautious after the meetings with Ryu’s staff and the “No on HPOZ” group. The MMRA’s newsletter last week declared that the group does not expect any further obstacles in adopting the revised HPOZ Preservation Plan.

But Schoenfeldt said “that’s not exactly accurate.” On Wednesday, he said they did clarify a lot of the issues during their meeting, but that other issues were disregarded, such as boundaries of the HPOZ that fall outside of the MMRA’s jurisdiction. He said that’s a major concern because those homeowners might not have been informed or consulted. At the MMRA meeting, residents from Council District 10 asked that their homes be taken out of the Miracle Mile HPOZ. Schoenfeldt described the preservation plan as “overwhelmingly restrictive” with 255 design guidelines, of which they said 40 percent need further review.

“We felt this really needed a second meeting,” Schoenfeld said, adding that agreements made to revise the HPOZ language were not approved by planning staff, and the scale of the rewrite will be “daunting.”

The Miracle Mile HPOZ covers approximately 1,347 properties bordered by Wilshire Boulevard to the north, San Vicente Boulevard to the south, La Brea Avenue to the east and Fairfax Avenue to the west. The CHC found that most properties reflect styles associated with the designated period of architecture.

The Planning Commission will consider the HPOZ on Dec. 8 at Los Angeles City Hall, 200 N. Spring Street, in Room 340. The meeting time has not yet been determined.

(Gregory Cornfield is managing editor at the La Brea News where this report was first posted.)