Accord Struck to Limit Mansionization in Studio City

A report from CD2 staff of Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian.

(From the CD2 Policy Page.)

Click here to watch Paul Krekorian's explanation.

In 2008, as residents throughout Los Angeles sought to contain what many called the scourge of large homes on small lots, the city enacted a set of regulations to curb. Under the Ordinance, homes on a 6,750-square-foot lot were limited to 4,050 square feet. Previous zoning codes allowed more than twice that mass, with a 7,000-square-foot limit.

The ordinance, which applies to 300,000 properties in single-family residential zones throughout Los Angeles, also allowed communities to write their own ordinances to limit mansionization. Recently, Studio City did just with a new ordinance that could soon be approved by the city called the (RFA) District.

The RFA, agreed on recently after dozens of meetings with hundreds of residents, went further than the city’s ordinance to limit mansionization – the phenomenon of tearing down an existing home and replacing it with one that may be much larger than surrounding homes.

By controlling mansionization for nearly 4,000 Studio City homes - limiting lots of 6,750 square feet (the typical lot size in Studio City) to 3,578 square feet - residents in the East Valley essentially agreed to the widest ranging set of guidelines a community has ever enacted to maintain the integrity of their neighborhood.

Though the anti-mansionization ordinance must still pass the City Council, its approval is assured after years of debate from those who opposed the RFA, saying the initial ordinance was sufficient while those in support felt that additional limitations were needed to protect Studio City.

In the end, community groups across a divergent landscape of concerns, entrenched in their positions, came together after months of what many called creative leadership by Councilmember Paul Krekorian’s office, as staff members worked to adopt a better way of addressing mansionization by limiting size and creating incentives for positive design elements that preserve the character of neighborhoods.

“We didn’t just mediate between warring sides,” Councilmember Krekorian said. “We developed a truly effective policy by bringing all sides into the discussion.”

That policy was years in the making and started before Councilmember Krekorian took office. On Sept. 5, 2008, then-Councilmember Wendy Greuel wrote a motion to begin work on an RFA for Studio City, agreeing to a model that initially limited home sizes to 40% of the existing lot, or, floor-area-ratio, allowed by law - 2,700 square feet on a 6,750 square foot lot.

Two years later, the city’s Planning Commission held a public hearing on the matter. Hundreds showed up to oppose and support the idea. Concurrently, following Wendy Greuel’s election as City Controller, Councilmember Krekorian’s office worked with staff in the Planning Department, the Studio City Neighborhood Council, the Studio City Resident’s Association, the newly formed Studio City Against the RFA and others to chart the best path forward.

“Councilmember Krekorian inherited a contentious issue on his first day in office,” said Alan Dymond, a supporter of the plan from the outset and president of the Studio City Residents Association.

On July 24, 2010, the Planning Commission approved a version of the plan but those for and against the proposal were still firmly entrenched and deeply divided on opposite sides of the fence.

One of the major points of contention for those opposed to the RFA - as espoused by groups such as Studio City Against the RFA - was that the policy would have unduly affected property rights.

Ben di Benedetto, a realtor in Studio City and a leading critic of the original RFA proposal, said he first learned of it from apprehensive clients.

“Knowing nothing about it myself, I began investigating only to find that there were many other concerned community members  that felt the issue had not been properly vetted,” Benedetto said.

Meetings were held with the councilmember, his staff, the city’s planning department and other groups such as the main opposition party, which Benedetto joined. From these meetings a compromise RFA was ultimately negotiated as all sides agreed on the need to limit mansionization without infringing on property rights.

Under the compromise, the maximum residential floor area in the majority of Studio City lots shall not exceed 53% of the lot area, while incorporating bonus design standards that minimize the impact of mansionization – a option that previously RFA iterations never incorporated.

[Read the RFA document (.pdf)]

“Not everyone was completely happy with the end result including yours truly, but as is often the case with compromise no one gets everything they want,” he said. “I have to commend all the party’s involved in the negotiation for their very hard work over a long period of time in reaching this agreement which I believe is ultimately a fair compromise that the community can live with.”

“I would like to especially thank Councilman Krekorian. It was not easy to represent all sides of this, especially over such a long period of time when everyone was so anxious to reach a resolution on such a contentious issue.” 

While community groups and the council office agreed on the framework and specific residential development guidelines, the proposal still must be approved by the city. The Planning and Land Use Management committee gave its initial blessing on Sept. 13 and the City Council on Oct. 1 instructed the Planning Department and City Attorney to draft the final ordinance, which will be sent back to the Council for a vote before it can be signed into law by the mayor. Officials expect passage before the end of the year.

“I hope the community embraces the compromise RFA and we can put this issue behind us and focus on other important issues regarding our quality of life in Studio City,” Benedetto said.


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