City Council limits “mansionization” of single-family neighborhoods
by: Madeleine Pauker
The Santa Monica City Council adopted regulations Tuesday that aim to limit the “mansionization” of the city’s single-family neighborhoods, but some residents say the new rules will prevent them from renovating their homes to accommodate their growing families.
City Hall has spent a year and a half reworking the rules on building height and size that apply to the Sunset Park, North of Montana and North of Wilshire neighborhoods, as well as a small portion of the Pico neighborhood, after residents complained that they were being boxed in by the large houses being built around them — often by developers hoping to cash in on Santa Monica’s overheated housing market.
The City Council made several changes to those rules Tuesday that are intended to incentivize remodels over new construction, voting to limit the height of new homes, the size of their second stories and how much of a lot they can occupy. The revisions, which were recommended to the council by the Planning Commission following a public input process, will go into effect Jan. 1.
“We understand that there are varying needs in our community and this update balances the desire to preserve the character that makes Santa Monica’s residential neighborhoods so attractive and the need for families to build based on changing needs,” Mayor Gleam Davis said in a statement.
But some residents said the new rules on lot coverage — which allow new homes to cover 45% of their lots and remodeled homes to cover 55% — will throw a wrench in their plans to add bedrooms or offices to their homes. The previous rules allowed homes to cover 61% of their lots.
“The revised standards … make it very difficult to design an adequate home with the basic spaces for living that can accommodate a family of 6 (plus elderly parents/relatives),” Dara Davis Beer, a mother of four, wrote in an email to the council.
Mayor Pro Tempore Terry O’Day sided with those residents, casting the lone dissenting vote against adopting the development standards the other six council members agreed upon.
Because local law is strict about what constitutes a remodel, he said, many families adding square footage to their homes would have to abide by the height and size rules for new homes. He wanted to allow new homes to cover 50% of their lots, rather than 45%.
“I think the overwhelming amount of testimony was in favor of making changes to the Planning Commission’s recommendations to allow families to accommodate enough bedrooms, particularly on the second floor, to house a whole family,” O’Day said.
The issue of lot coverage was complicated by accessory dwelling units. ADUs are small buildings that homeowners can build as additions to their homes or construct as separate units in their backyards. Homeowners can rent them out, house family members in them or use them as home offices.
Local and state lawmakers have heralded ADUs as a way to address California’s housing crisis because they can make single-family neighborhoods denser without substantially changing their character. Governor Gavin Newsom recently approved a set of bills that allow property owners to build larger ADUs and supersede some local regulations that impede their construction.
Shawn Landres, a member of the city’s Planning Commission, said the new development standards for single-family neighborhoods incentivize ADUs by exempting them from lot coverage calculations.
“We have housing needs in Santa Monica and the message we’re sending is “let’s address those needs with ADUs, at least in part”,” Landres said.
While the council supported promoting the construction of ADUs, some said allowing new homes to cover 50% of their lots and contain ADUs up to 1,200 square feet would put them too close to their neighbors.
“To me, it just becomes inescapable that we have to go with (45% lot coverage). Otherwise, we’re going to be overbuilding our city,” said Councilmember Kevin McKeown.
O’Day said he felt that councilmembers were operating on the assumption that families can and want to house children in ADUs when they decided to limit lot coverage to 45%.
“We should not make it too difficult for people to still accommodate their family in their main house,” he said.