City officials uphold new restrictions against packing multiple houses onto single lots

By Gary Walker

City planning officials have once again sided with slower-growth advocates in Venice campaigning to stop single-family homes from being demolished to make way for multiple housing units on the same small lots.

Back in August, Los Angeles Planning Director Michael LoGrande issued a directive that the Venice Coastal Zone Specific Plan — a set of zoning rules that tends to be more restrictive about growth and density, including how many homes can be built on a single lot — should supersede general city zoning regulations in Venice when the two conflict.

That directive was appealed by developer Len Judaken, who last year unsuccessfully sought permission to build up to 15 homes on three lots across from the Abbot Kinney Library, a 25,450-square-foot project on 18,484 square feet of land.

Last month, the Los Angeles City Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee dismissed Judaken’s appeal of LoGrande’s directive.

The decision marked a victory for neighborhood activists concerned about density and traffic, capping a months-long campaign against developers purchasing lots in Venice and subdividing them into two or three lots.

The Venice Coastal Zone Specific Plan does allow for lot subdivisions in some neighborhoods, but requires that at least one of the newly created residences is marketed as affordable housing.

Longtime Oxford Triangle homeowner Challis Macpherson said the problem was that developers, citing the general city zoning code, were frequently subdividing lots with no regard to an affordable housing requirement.

Macpherson, formerly a member of the Venice Neighborhood Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee, was also part of a committee who helped craft Venice’s specific plan in the late 1970s.

“I think the city finally came around to recognizing the importance of our specific plan,” Macpherson said.

Allan Abshez, an attorney representing Judaken, did not return calls.

Macpherson praised Planning Department Deputy Director Alan Bell for his successful defense against the appeal.

Bell said that the Venice Coastal Zone Specific Plan should have always taken precedent over city statutes when they conflicted.

“We wanted to review our prior interpretation to make sure that we had it right,” he said.

Councilman Mike Bonin had campaigned on the side of those backing specific plan restrictions on lot subdivisions.

“This is one of the most significant planning accomplishments that my team has made since I took office. It’s a very big deal, and it illustrates our plans to put neighborhoods first,” Bonin said.

Not all current or pending lot subdivision projects in Venice will be stopped by the L.A. City Council committee’s decision, however.

Bell said some projects already in the city’s planning pipeline may continue to go forward and that officials have yet to figure out what the cutoff point in the planning process will be.

“We won’t have a final answer for a couple of weeks,” Bell said.