New limits on home sizes would impact Mar Vista, east Venice and Westchester’s Kentwood neighborhood

By Gary Walker

A neighbor’s back-porch view of a very large new home under construction in Venice Photo by Katherine Conway

A neighbor’s back-porch view of a very large new home under construction in Venice
Photo by Katherine Conway

As a Westside real estate agent, Linda Black has had a front-row seat to changing building patterns in local residential neighborhoods.

In Westchester and Mar Vista, the trend for the past several years has been toward bigger and taller homes as property owners tear down existing structures to build out their lots to the max.

She says her clients often remark how these large new houses — often called McMansions by those who find them ostentatious and architecturally uninspiring — stand in stark contrast to much smaller surrounding homes.

“They often say, ‘That house sticks out like a sore thumb.’ And when they’re out of scale with the rest of the neighborhood, it can affect a neighborhood’s character,” said Black, a Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage branch manager for Venice and Marina del Rey.

City lawmakers are hearing similar complaints throughout Los Angeles and are moving toward adopting new regulations that would temporarily reduce the maximum size allowed for new single-family homes in 15 neighborhoods — including Mar Vista, the eastern portion of Venice and the Kentwood section of Westchester.

The Los Angeles City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to forward the new restrictions on “mansionization” to the full council for approval.

The temporary ordinance would eliminate widely utilized exemptions for exceeding existing floor area limits in
Mar Vista, east Venice and Kentwood and prevent waivers for green building practices and other architectural features. It could stay in effect for as little as 45 days or as long as two years while the council considers more permanent zoning changes.

L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin, a co-sponsor of the ordinance, could not be reached Tuesday.

Todd Jerry, chief operating officer for the West Los Angeles architectural and construction firm Marmol Radziner, is in favor of updating and reforming city codes regarding residential home sizes but says the temporary new rules could bring unintended consequences — especially with the loss of density bonuses for covered parking, patios and porches.

“This could bring about a pause or a dramatic change in the kind of building that we’re seeing for families who want to build a home that fits their lifestyle. But the bigger detriment is we could also see an immediate reduction in property values,” said Jerry, whose firm does work in Venice and Mar Vista.

While Black feels that new homes built out of proportion to a neighborhood can alter its look and feel, she is also wary of too much government intervention.

“The minute we let government regulate everything, a homeowner may not be able to use their property the way that they want to,” she said.

Steve Wallace, co-chair of the Mar Vista Community Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee, says he shares some of Jerry’s concerns but ultimately thinks a temporary moratorium on large-scale homes is necessary.

“It’s a step in the right direction that may help stop huge big box-type homes being built without any thought to the existing character of the neighborhood,” Wallace said. “I’m not about to bash allowing a property owner to build a suitable home for their family, but it’s mainly developers building huge boxes and then flipping them in neighborhoods they do not live anywhere near.”

A petition opposing the ordinance had garnered more than  700 signatures as of Tuesday.

“Kentwood, Mar Vista and east Venice are family-friendly neighborhoods comprised mostly of single-story, 1920s and 1930s homes. Residents wish to have the ability to expand these homes to suit their needs, while maintaining the charm of the neighborhood,” the petition states.

Housing prices, gentrification, affordability and density have become watchwords in Westside neighborhoods. In Venice, developers have on several occasions torn down smaller single-family homes to build multiple residences on subdivided lots.

Kentwood resident Cyndi Hench thinks developers have recently discovered her neighborhood and the surrounding communities as well.

“Westchester has enjoyed being a secret, and Playa del Rey too. But now we’re seeing these large, super-sized homes here. I would have preferred that the ordinance extend throughout Westchester and Playa del Rey,” said Hench, president of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester – Playa.

Mar Vista resident Joseph Treves, an associate partner at the Beverly Hills real estate and brokerage firm Partners Trust, said 21st-century lifestyles have ushered in new ways of living and home construction.

“The way that we use our homes has changed. People have turned inward and use their computers and electronic devices more and not their front and back yards,” noted Treves, whose firms also sells homes in Venice and Mar Vista.

In his real estate blog, Treves writes that the concept of “mansionization” is a product of economics.

“Home values are usually predicated by their size and appraised and compared by their square footage; the larger the home the higher the value. If a developer is to invest in the purchase of a property with the intention of remodeling or building a new home, his return on that investment increases based upon maximizing the square footage of the finished home. It’s all rather formulaic. The developer knows their cost to build, and this cost becomes significantly less when the size of the home is increased,” Treves wrote.

Black said crafting new regulations that preserve the character of the neighborhoods while retaining homeowners’ rights will require deft attention to detail.

“It’s all about getting the right balance,” she said.