The problem--Mansionization replaces older homes with oversized structures, often built byspeculators. The problem is not house size. It’s house size relative to lot size and neighborhood context.
- Mansionization disrupts the scale and character of established neighborhoods.
- Houses that loom over neighboring homes take away air, sunlight, privacy, and market value.
- Mansionization replaces modest homes with showplaces that price out all but the most affluent buyers.
- Developers make a fast buck, but realtors estimate that homes adjacent to McMansions lose at least $50,000 to $100,000 in market value.
- Mansionization harms the environment. It turns existing houses into rubble, consumes large quantities of materials, reduces permeable ground, and destroys mature trees. Developers often flout environmental laws regarding demolitions and toxic building materials. Their oversize houses strain public infrastructure and guzzle energy for years to come.
Mansionization is out of sync with the city’s legally adopted policies, principles, goals, and guidelines that promote livable neighborhoods and environmentally sound practices.
The background--Mansionization started to afflict single-household neighborhoods in Los Angeles early in the 2000s. The City Council passed the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance (BMO)in 2008 and a complementary Baseline Hillside Ordinance in 2011.
Both ordinances set citywide limits based on “floor area ratio” (or FAR), which measures the size of the structure in proportion to the size of the lot. Both ordinances feature liberal base FARs, generous bonuses, and exemptions that do not count significant floor space. Most importantly, neither ordinance stopped mansionization! As a result, quality of life and affordability of housing are at risk all over Los Angeles.
Many neighborhoods have sought basic protections through neighborhood-specific “overlay zones,” such as Residential Floor Area Districts (RFAs). But overlay zones are designed to tailor regulations to the needs of individual neighborhoods, not to set a citywide baseline that prevents mansionization. What’s more, the overlay zones entail a complex, time-consuming process that creates a “window of opportunity” for developers and strains the city’s resources.
The Solution--In May 2014, Councilmember Paul Koretz put forward a Council Motion to fix the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance. The Motion takes a simple, straightforward, enforceable approach: Ratchet down the base FAR and eliminate counter-productive bonuses and exemptions.
The Council adopted the Koretz Motion 15 months ago, and soon after authorized additional Planning Department staff positions to take on the work.
Meanwhile, mansionization accelerated and spread, and in October 2014 the city passed Interim Control Ordinances (ICOs) to provide short-term protection for 20 of the hardest-hit neighborhoods.
But most neighborhoods still remain exposed to mansionization, and even those with ICOs only have protection for a maximum of two years. Strong citywide ordinances must be put in place as soon as possible.
The case for amending the BMO--A baseline is like a basic speed limit for city planning. The baseline under the current code is equivalent to a speed limit of about 180 miles/hour on quiet residential streets.
Mansionization is a citywide problem that calls for a citywide solution. The simplest, most effective solution is to tighten the base FAR and close gaping loopholes in the ordinance.
RFA and HPOZ overlays will still remain options for neighborhoods that want additional regulations tailored to their individual character.
Zoning categories developed as part of the city’s long-term comprehensive code revision, re:code LA, will benefit from the foundation of an effective baseline. But these long-term zone changes are no substitute for immediate, citywide zoning code amendments to stop mansionization.
The amendments in brief--Councilmember Koretz proposes sensible, straightforward amendments to the BMO. His Motion identifies ordinance provisions that should be changed:
- On lots smaller than 7500 square feet, the base FAR is currently 50 percent of lot size. Reduce their FAR to the 45 percent that now applies to lots between 7500 and 10000 square feet.
- Attached garages, porches/patios/breezeways, and double-height entryways add significant bulk. Include this square footage in the FAR calculation.
- The “Green Bonus” grants 20 percent more square footage for building practices that are mandatory under other regulations. Eliminate this self-defeating bonus.
- Design bonuses for “articulation” of front walls and for second-story “setbacks” also add 20 percent more square footage while failing to achieve the goal of compatible development. Eliminate them.
The amended BMO will allow spacious, comfortable homes that accommodate modern families and still respect the character of established neighborhoods.
Support for the amendments
Dozens of Neighborhood Councils and homeowner and resident associations have formally declared support for Councilmember Koretz’s proposed BMO amendments. A broad coalition of preservation and environmental groups can play a welcome and valuable role in getting the amendments done properly and in good time.
● More info on efforts to stop mansionization in Los Angeles:
(Shelley Wagers and Dick Platkin live in Beverly Grove and on board members of the Beverly
Wilshire Homes Association. They have been campaigning against mansionization in Los Angeles
for over a decade. They can be reached at email@example.com. Dick Platkin
for CityWatch on city planning issues.)
Vol 13 Issue 71
Pub: Aug 31, 2015