A "McMansion" is a large, new home on a small lot in an older neighborhood. Photo via Wikimedia Commons
A “McMansion” is a large, new home on a small lot in an older neighborhood. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The battle against “depressing,” giant “McMansion” homes on too-small lots will move to a Los Angeles City Council committee after passing an initial hurdle as strict new rules were approved by the City Planning Commission.

The debate was an emotional one, as a Studio City supporter of the proposed new restrictions told commissioners new large homes are “depressing” and part of the “destruction of my neighborhood’s character” that make him want to “crawl in a hole and die.”

The commission backed efforts to discourage the construction of so-called “McMansions” — homes that are bigger than typically built in a neighborhood — including a requirement that would restrict living space to less than half of the property lot.

One of the more significant proposed changes, which now move to a City Council committee and then the full City Council for consideration, would affect homes on lots that are less than 7,500 square feet. Houses on such properties are currently allowed to have floor areas that are 50 percent of the lot size, but under the proposal approved by the panel today, that cap would be reduced to 45 percent.

Much of the discussion by the panel revolved around whether porches, patios, garages and other similar areas should be considered living areas that count toward that percentage. The proposal eventually approved by the commission would eliminate exemptions for porches and patios, which means they would be included in the overall floor area of the property’s living space.

The panel agreed on a compromise regarding garages, which some people complained add to the bulk of a home. While detached garages, and those located at the back of the house, would still be exempted for the first 400 square feet, garages that are attached at the side would only have a 200 square feet exemption, under the proposed rules.

Planning Commission Chair David Ambroz favored including the floor area of all garages, saying some homeowners often use the spaces for other purposes, such as extra rooms, yoga or pilates studios and storage space.

Commissioner Samantha Millman disagreed, saying there are too many varieties of garage layouts that may not contribute to the overall bulk of homes.

The panel Thursday unanimously backed Millman’s proposal, which would only reduce the exemption from 400 to 200 square feet for garages that are attached at the side. Other types of garages would retain the existing 400-square-foot exemption.

Under the proposal, some bonuses that currently allow houses to have extra floor area if certain design decisions are made, would also be eliminated, so that there would be fewer ways for builders go over the floor area cap.

The issue will now go to the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Manage Committee for consideration.

Residents who spoke at the planning commission meeting disagreed sharply on the proposed rules.

Many residents who supported the rules said the construction of larger homes that tower over others in the area are affecting their privacy, the views from their own properties and the character of the neighborhood.

Jan Reichmann, a real estate agent and resident of Comstock Hills in Westwood, said her neighborhood “has been ravaged by aggressive speculators, tearing (down homes) and creating duplicate mansions.”

“Don’t be fooled by those who say the older homes are not big enough for today’s lifestyle,” she told the commission. “Once a house is torn down next to you, your house is immediately devalued,” with natural lighting and privacy reduced.

Barry Johnson, a member of the Studio City Neighborhood Council, said the construction of larger homes has ruined his neighborhood.

“Each day, I come home from work, I see the latest destruction of my neighborhood’s character,” he said. “It’s very depressing. It gets to where you want to crawl in a hole and die.”

Several residents who oppose the proposal said a single approach is not appropriate, since property size, layouts and needs differ greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood.

“I’m opposed to the ordinance — it just kind of blankets L.A.,” said Magda Rodriguez.

Rodriguez said her 85-year-old mother would be “penalized” by the proposed rules, because her home, near the Brentwood Country Club, is one of the few smaller ones that have not been developed, which means the proposal could keep down the value of her mother’s property.

Anne Russell, who owns a home in the Hollywood Hills and works as a real estate agent in Pacific Palisades, said there are “vast differences between neighborhoods in the Los Angeles city area.”

“We have already developed most of the Palisades so that actually the small one-story houses are outliers, not the norm, and this is definitely affecting the elderly who own these small houses,” she said.

“They’ll not have the opportunity to develop them, the way that their neighbors have if you go ahead with this proposal.”

Residents of Pacific Palisades are taking part in revamp of the city building codes — under a program called Re/Code L.A. — that would create a more refined set of rules customized to the area, Russell said.

–Staff and wire reports

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